July 25, 2019
Dear ESA Family,
I wanted to write to you directly to provide you and your family with information and updates regarding the ESA program.
I deeply respect your family’s decision to utilize the ESA program to seek alternative education services that best meet your child’s needs. I am dedicated to managing the ESA program in a manner that serves parents, is transparent, and is within the bounds of the current laws that govern the program.
We have made significant advances to better serve you and your family, including:
- Hiring an experienced director to lead the program and the ESA Department
- Creating a new comprehensive ESA Parent Handbook that provides guidance, clarity, and stability regarding ESA requirements
- Establishing a parent/school advisory committee that meets monthly to provide the ESA team with feedback and suggestions
- Establishing an on-line application process, including the ability to check the status of your ESA application on our website
Additionally, I assembled an ESA taskforce made up of stakeholders and ESA parents. One outcome of the taskforce was an agreement to transition to a new banking vendor that will streamline and simplify the current processes. Working collaboratively with Treasurer Kimberly Yee’s office, we developed and executed a Request for Proposal process to solicit vendors.
I am pleased to announce that last week,
was awarded the contract and will be the new vendor replacing the Bank of America (BofA) prepaid debit card system. Class Wallet has experience in providing financial and purchase services to ESA programs in other states. Our ESA team will work diligently with Class Wallet to make this transition as smooth as possible. This new platform will be phased-in over the next several months. The specifics of this transition are still being finalized, when information becomes available we will communicate it directly to you. Rest assured, as with the current system,
only the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) will have access to student level data.
In the meantime, please continue to utilize the current BofA system until the details of the transition have been communicated to you.
Our transition to Class Wallet represents our commitment to better serve the growing number of families who utilize the ESA program. Close to 6,500 students now use the program, a 52 percent increase over the past three years. Unfortunately, the funding to administer the program has not kept pace, increasing by only 33.5 percent. Our dedicated ESA staff are doing their absolute best to serve you. However, the inability to hire additional staff to handle the growth of the program has hampered our ability to provide timely service to you. Without additional funding to add experienced staff, this situation will only continue to worsen.
Under state law, 4 percent of the money from your child’s ESA is set aside in an account specifically dedicated to the administration of the ESA program. The legislature has never given ADE approval to spend that full amount. This year, the appropriation was only 1.6 percent for a total of $1.2 million dollars. Currently, these dollars provide for the 13 ESA staff members and related expenses to run the program. However, there is nearly $3.3 million sitting in the account that is dedicated to administering the ESA program, money that ADE cannot use unless it is appropriated by the legislature.
If ADE were given the spending authority by the legislature to use the full 4 percent of administrative funding, I would immediately authorize the hiring of up to 15 additional staff members that would be dedicated solely to serving the ESA program.
Fully funding the ESA program would allow ADE to hire the proper number of staff to provide robust customer service, process new applications and contract renewals in a timelier manner, as well as review and audit expenditures at regular intervals to provide assurances to parents and accountability to taxpayers.
In February, I testified in front of the Senate Education Committee, asking state lawmakers to appropriate this funding to ensure the Department of Education can properly serve families and address the growing demands of this program. If you join me in this concern, I urge you to reach out to your respective legislators and let them know.
In the meantime, we will continue to do our absolute best to serve you and your child with the resources that we have available to us. I will also continue to strongly advocate to our legislature for the appropriation of the full funding for ESA administration. I hope you will join me in that effort.