Last week brought news that the Arizona Department of Education had inadvertently released the personal information of the nearly 7,000 families who make use of Empowerment Savings Accounts (ESA). And it’s not the first time the Department has mishandled the ESA program, a program that helps so many children—many of them with special needs—get the customized education they need to succeed.
On Monday, it was revealed that the Department released a spreadsheet that included the account balances of every ESA account in the state, along with the names, email addresses, and other personal information of the nearly 7,000 parents with ESA accounts. Not only was the spreadsheet containing the sensitive information sent to the Yellow Sheet Report, but it was also shared with Save Our Schools, a group that has been an outspoken opponent of ESAs.
Unfortunately, this latest epic fail on the part of the state Department of Education is part of a pattern of poor management of the ESA program. Earlier in January, the Goldwater Institute filed a lawsuit challenging the Department of Education’s long delays in supplying needed funds to which ESA families are entitled—delays long enough to force parents to pay out of pocket for tutoring and teaching tools that their ESA should cover without the possibility of reimbursement. While requiring families to follow its ESA rules to the letter, the Department of Education’s handling of the ESA program has still resulted in unpredictable and arbitrary outcomes for families—for instance, some families have been rejected for certain ESA expenses while others have been approved for the very same expenses.
“Mistakes do happen, but I don’t think that’s good enough as an excuse. That doesn’t undo the damage, the harm to these families,” Goldwater Institute Director of Education Policy Matt Beienburg said of the privacy breach on KJZZ’s “The Show.” “These are families with deeply personal life circumstances, these are kids with special needs diagnoses, and this information is now essentially made available to be dragged out into the public.
“For the Department to have treated these families this way saying ‘we have zero tolerance for any misstep’ and to then make a massive blunder like this is really revealing.”
Listen to the interview here: https://theshow.kjzz.org/sites/default/files/ade-data-breach-show-sg-mb-20200129.mp3?uuid=5e3b8ffd9e654
Matt Beienburg is Director of Education at the Goldwater Institute. You can read his bio here.