2 Arizona school choice leaders resign as controversy over the program continues

Two leaders of Arizona's "Empower Scholarship Accounts' have resigned.

It's the latest in an ongoing battle over the state's ESA program that aims to provide parents more choices for where they send their kids to school.

Recently, Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes expressed her disapproval of the vouchers and how they are used.

According to the Arizona Department of Education, more than 60,000 students have used ESAs. That amount has skyrocketed in the last year.

The original price tag was $33 million, but Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs says now it’s on pace for a billion dollars, resulting in a budget shortfall of $320 million.

Beth Lewis with Save Our Schools Arizona is applauding the state attorney’s general warning, telling families to be aware of the rights they give up when leaving the public school system and taking ESAs.

Not having those protections could lead to discrimination.

"Parents need to know their rights and when you take a voucher, you as parents sign away all of your federal rights and a lot of protections for your kid," Lewis said.

These vouchers have been the center of debate from the get-go.

Supporters say they can be used to pay for private school, homeschooling, tutoring and more, allowing families to choose where they want their children to study regardless of cost. 

But, those against ESAs say the funds take away from already underfunded public schools, can be misused and rack up a huge bill.

"ESA vouchers are set to bankrupt the state we have been saying that for many years," Lewis said.


"A lot of these dollars are going to really unaccountable places and Tom Horne's aid is just approving anything. From water parks for PE, to gourmet espresso machines for education. Here we are with our public schools still 48th in the nation and still needing those funds desperately," Lewis said.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne fires back saying that special education students receive the same funding they would if they were attending a traditional public school.

"I’ve cracked down and made sure that the laws are followed strictly and every penny is used for valid educational purposes," Horne said.

As the battle draws out, two top admins overseeing the ESA program have resigned, including Linda Rizzo, ESA operations director, and Horne’s pick to oversee the voucher program, Christine Accurso.

Accurso said in a statement, in part, "I achieved much of what I set out to accomplish, but it is time for me to move on and pursue opportunities to engage citizens, especially parents, to fight for school choice and other issues they believe in."

Horne remarked on her decision to leave. 

"She came onto to clean up the mess that was left by the prior administration that she feels that’s been accomplished and it's time for her to move onto other things," he said.

Along with her warning to families, Mayes has launched a website to file complaints over ESA fraud.