Concerned ESA parents continue to air worries, call on firing of director

Posted at 6:42 PM, Mar 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-20 21:42:23-04

PHOENIX — Some parents using the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, ESA, are calling for the firing of the director, saying they feel her direction of the program has “descended into chaos.”

The Arizona Coalition of Parents for Equal Student Access says they feel the ESA’s program director, Christine Accurso, is destroying the program.

Families who rely on the ESA program are afraid of a collapse if changes continue.

“I believe being in the middle of a contract year, which we all are, to make radical changes, it's doing nothing but hurting the program,” said Lynn Fox-Embry, who has three kids using the ESA program.

Parents went to the State Board of Education meeting on Monday to talk about their concerns, again.

Parents say they're worried about the changes Accurso has made, including the limited use of debit cards to buy educational supplies as well as restrictions on what they can or can’t buy through the funds.

Accurso sees it differently.

“We're not changing the program. We're simply aligning it to the law and making sure it's clear for educational purposes only,” she told ABC15.

The Arizona Department of Education says some parents are not using their funds correctly. Accurso said they ultimately ended up canceling more than 200 cards out of the 17,000 who have them.

Accurso said she’s investigating reports that ESA funds were used to purchase things like bounce houses, water slides, and even a chicken coop, among other things.

“I’m all about holding people accountable, I feel like if there is fraud out there, hold those people accountable. Don't tie my hands up and the people that aren't committing fraud,” Fox-Embry said.

In buying some needs for their student's education through ESA funds, some families will have to provide additional documentation about what they need to buy.

Fox-Embry thinks that’ll hinder her ability to help teach her children, who also have special needs.

“If I’m waiting… to get reimbursement, that’s money I can’t use to buy new curriculum and with children with special needs, curriculum changes all the time,” she added.

Some other parents in the public comment feel Accurso doesn’t have their best interest at heart. They claim a group called the American Federation for Children is being listened to over them, as Accurso drafts an updated ESA handbook.

Fox-Embry feels families should be heard, not organizations with special interests.

Accurso told ABC15 she didn’t listen to what the group said.

“All of my edits were changed in the handbook with the help of somebody who happens to work with them, a clerical help. I was able to get it to her because we were understaffed,” Accurso said. “No influence whatsoever.”

All K-12 students became eligible for the ESA program last year under a universal expansion. It just reached 50,000 participants, more than tripling over the last year. However, more participants means a need for more workers, which Accurso said she’s working to hire more. They’re still working through the backlog of reimbursements for families.

Parents hope the department will listen to them.

“School choice is great, but I choose to educate at home, and I feel like with the new policies in place, it's limiting what I could do for my children,” Fox-Embry said.