Setting the Record Straight on My Time as the Arizona ESA Director

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Setting the Record Straight on My Time as the Arizona ESA Director

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Editor’s note: This is in response to this article.

The following statement is a response to the inaccurate article about my performance as the director of Arizona’s ESA program—an article for which I was never interviewed or contacted.

I have been involved in the parental rights and school choice movement for almost ten years. I was appointed ESA Executive Director at the Arizona Department of Education on Jan. 3, 2023, by Superintendent Tom Horne. When our new administration began, I quickly assessed the ESA program, for which I was responsible, and found it horrendous. I found the department short-staffed, inefficient in its processes, and lacking a call center. In addition, there were multiple areas where the law was not being followed. Vendors were not adequately vetted and accredited according to the law. ESA vendors and parents were frustrated and angry that they weren’t paid promptly. I worked with my team to address the issues one by one.

Most importantly, we began serving the ESA families by contacting them weekly to share the program’s status and how we planned to get it back on track. Thousands of calls were coming into the office, and most were prematurely terminated. I hired a call center manager who built a call center from scratch and established it in three months. Families who could only hope to reach a representative 20 hours per week now can contact the ESA department six days per week, with eight full-time representatives available to serve them.

As the director, I doubled the staff and hired temporary employees to work on the 171,757 unpaid expense orders the previous administration abandoned. They had directed the staff to stop processing orders in November of 2022 and left families waiting for the new administration. It was a monumental task, with an average of 5,000 additional new charges hitting the office every calendar day. Parents had been waiting months for their children’s educational expenses to be paid, and by the time I left the office, we were processing orders within 24 hours of receiving them; our goal was within 72 hours. Tens of thousands of parents and the ESA staff can attest to this fact, and many have reached out to me with gratitude, both before and after I left my position.

After consulting with the superintendent, the internal auditor, the team of attorneys, ESA account holders, and the ESA staff (including the person in the new position of Parent Liaison that I created), necessary adjustments were made to how the program would operate due to the laws in effect. Some changes were unpopular with a small group of vocal parents. One example I can point out is that the previous team’s prepaid debit card administration was grossly mismanaged. There were thousands of purchases made over the previous year without any receipts on file. The superintendent, the internal auditor (who was later my replacement as ESA director), and I repeatedly discussed the situation. We unanimously decided to pause issuing new debit cards and allow people with cards in good standing to continue using them. There are four ways to spend ESA dollars, and this was just one of them. We began seeking solutions and automation, hoping the RFP bidding process would resolve that.

Another example of an inaccuracy in the article was my alleged preference for ClassWallet. It is no secret inside or outside the department that issues with ClassWallet have plagued the program; this is public knowledge. As a technical advisor and non-voting member of the RFP, I objectively reviewed the four bids and gave my professional opinion on the options. As you will see in my written response to the evaluation team, which is now a public document, I advocated for Student First Technologies over ClassWallet or the other bidders.

I never decided to change how the program operated independently; the superintendent approved everything. As a diverse group of professionals, we made decisions together. Arizona’s former attorney general runs the Department of Education, and strict adherence to the law was a non-negotiable for him, and of course, I agreed.

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I sincerely appreciate this program. As a mother of a child with a disability who was in the program for nine years, I saw its great gift. I fought hard last summer to ensure that every student in Arizona had access to this program by defending the law our legislature passed. Our previous governor remarked that the universal ESA law would have never come to life in Arizona if it wasn’t for me and my many friends who fought so hard for it.

I resigned as Arizona’s ESA director on July 24 because I accomplished my goal of repairing the chaotic program. I intended to stay until it was functioning correctly to get the program back on track. When I left, the program was adequately staffed, ESA families were being well served, and the processes my team established were running smoothly. I wish the next director the best of luck as he continues managing this fast-growing program.

It is important to note that I never received a call, text, email, or message from the man who wrote the piece in The Daily Signal. I have spoken to several journalists since I left the department, but only those trusted to share accurate facts. This article was orchestrated by people with a political agenda.

The people who provided the misinformation weren’t interested in my performance, only in smearing me and the ESA program that I worked tirelessly to optimize. I have been an ESA parent. I helped craft portions of the ESA law. I defended it successfully and have been one of only a few people with the privilege of executing it. I am incredibly proud of the ESA team and everything we accomplished together. It was a privilege to serve Arizona’s students and their families in this capacity, and I look forward to continuing the work that God has called me to in the education freedom movement across the country so that the talents and gifts He has given me can continue to be put to good use.

Link 1: https://www.dailysignal.com/2023/09/05/the-incompetent-who-almost-ruined-arizonas-school-choice-program/

Link 2: https://www.aztreasury.gov/_files/ugd/8bb536_efcc7fd68c3642a58748fdbd51d27fed.pdf

Referenced Document:  Attached to Email

Link 3: https://www.facebook.com/100047583662548/videos/5253744788055970/

The post Setting the Record Straight on My Time as the Arizona ESA Director appeared first on The Daily Signal.

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