Horne And Hobbs Continue To Tussle Over ESA Issues

August 1, 2023

By Daniel Stefanski |

Arizona’s Democrat Governor and Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction continue to trade political volleys over the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program.

Last week, Governor Katie Hobbs transmitted a communication to the state’s schools chief, Tom Horne, “requesting detailed plans for protecting the personal data of Arizona students and families (after) the company responsible for the financial administration of the ESA program, ClassWallet, experienced a data breach that prompted the activation of the state Incident Response Team at the Arizona Department of Homeland Security. The Governor’s Office then tied the recent departure of “two high ranking ESA officials” to the issue, writing that in the aftermath of their sudden and unexpected resignations, there were now “concerns and questions about the administration of the ESA voucher program and the protection of student data.”

Hobbs issued a statement, saying, “It is my responsibility to ensure the safety and security of our state, our agencies, and our people. Arizona students and families deserve to know that proper measures are in place to protect their personal information.”

Christine Accurso, one of the former ESA officials referenced by Hobbs, quickly responded on Twitter, stating, “Governor Hobbs the same type of breach has happened on this platform in the past, even as late as last December. This has nothing to do with the resignations. You should review all of the investigations and contact the contract holder, the State Treasurer’s office.”

Horne, too, wasted little time in getting back to Hobbs. Mere hours after the governor sent her letter, the Arizona Department of Education first publicized a comment from ClassWallet’s CEO Jamie Rosenburg, who said, “The problem has been solved. It was a permission setting error. Once discovered, we took immediate action and corrected the permission setting. Additionally, we performed a database search and concluded no other users were affected. Therefore, this is an isolated incident to a single user.”

Then, less than two hours after the ClassWallet response, Horne released a letter he had forwarded to the governor with his responses to her queries. In that letter, Horne first addressed Hobbs’ connection of the breach with the departure of two of his aides, writing, “The first point to make is that the decision of Christine Accurso and her assistant, who came on to straighten out the mess caused by the previous administration, and when that was accomplished, left to go on to other things, has absolutely nothing to do with any reported data breach.”

Answering Hobbs’ question of “what steps is your administration taking to address any potential violations of State statutes relating to student data privacy,” Horne said, “The Department of Homeland Security in your own office is conducting an investigation. They met with officials in our office. Since the department of homeland security is part of your office, we would have thought you would have checked with them before writing your letter that is full of wild exaggerations.”

Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee also weighed in on the governor’s letter, informing constituents of the steps her office had taken once she learned of the incident. Yee wrote, “We have received verbal confirmation from Homeland Security that the breach did not originate from the vendor. We have also been provided assurances from Homeland Security that the vendor and my office have responded appropriately to the incident. Based on information received, we are not aware of any existing data breach and have confidence that the ESA platform is secure.”

Christine Jones, the Founder of Bigfork Tech, shared her insights into the matter, tweeting, “1. This isn’t a data breach. More like a data leak/unintentional disclosure. 2. Why is Gov involved? Superintendent is elected position-doesn’t report to Gov. 3. Former AZ AG Horne knows how to address this. 4. Kimberly Yee handles admin and oversight of ClassWallet.”

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

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