As a new administration takes over operations for the Arizona Department of Education (ADE), led by Superintendent Tom Horne (R), it appears they are swamped with a massive backlog of Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) requests leftover by the former administration of Kathy Hoffman (D). Christine Accurso, an advocate for ESAs, is now the program’s executive director and is shacking up how the office tackles requests to deal with the backlog.
“Our team is processing expense requests in sections, by category so that we can get through them efficiently and effectively. In the past the requests were processed in the order they were received. We are working on new processes to use going forward, as we work through the backlog,” Accurso said in a statement emailed to The Arizona Sun Times.
Moreover, a spokesperson for the ADE told the Sun Times that the ESA office only had 17 employees to deal with the 171,600 unapproved requests left by the Hoffman administration.
“The staffing will be brought to an appropriate number as we restructure our internal processes,” the spokesman said.
However, when House Bill (HB) 2853, sponsored by state Rep. Ben Toma, passed and made Universal ESAs law in Arizona, it allocated an additional $2,200,000 for hiring up to 26 new staff to work in the ESA office. The ADE spokesperson said the previous administration did not do this.
Hoffman was an open opponent of the ESA program.
Thank you @arizona_sos & @changinghands for hosting today’s signing event!
Let’s get this referendum on the ballot & have the voters decide if they want a universal voucher program with zero accountability.
Find a place to sign here ➡️ https://t.co/suVyW48Z6z pic.twitter.com/jAD6pbMvlK
— Kathy Hoffman (@kathyhoffman_az) July 16, 2022
According to Horne, the department recently approved 24,366 requests in the ESA program. Additionally, over $22.2 million was handed out to schools and tutors who were owed money from the second fiscal quarter of 2022 while also paying 1,500 tutors who had not received a paycheck in months.
“When I took office, the commitment I made is that the Arizona Department of Education is a service organization committed to raising academic outcomes and empowering parents,” Horne said. “Delays and inefficiencies of this kind are unacceptable and won’t be repeated.”
However, as reported by AZ Free News, even with the 24,000 requests approved, that still left the office with thousands more to approve. This goes without mentioning the new requests they receive daily, which Accurso shared was 130 on average.
Moreover, aside from changing how staff approaches ESA approvals, Accurso will also look over other office areas to make updates. For starters, before even entering the office, she noticed that an espresso machine was on the ADE’s “approval list,” so she replaced the previous Allowable Expenses list. Additionally, under Hoffman, the ESA office was only open to take calls from parents from 10 am to 2 pm, which led to parents being unable to access the helpline due to a high volume of calls. Accurso said she is addressing this problem too.
We need a new ESA administration! It has been poorly managed for years. The issues everyone is having now are the same old problems, but just multiplied since we have tens of thousands of new students in the program.
This happened today. ⬇️🙄 🧵⬇️ pic.twitter.com/6VLiFb7KHY
— Christine Accurso (@ArizonaCatholic) October 27, 2022
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