Mark Finchem is at it again
The Legislative 11 State Representative, apparently motivated by videos released by the pro-school voucher group known as the American Federation of Children, wants the State Attorney General to investigate the Department of Education for having longer than required wait times for the processing of Empowerment Scholarship Account (E.S.A.) applications.
This is the same Mark Finchem who:
- Wanted to sell off parts of the Grand Canyon to private interests.
- Told constituents that Middle Eastern terrorists were waiting for their opportunity south of the United States/Mexico border to enter and cause “another 9/11.”
- Proposed utilizing a teacher’s manual from an organization dedicated to anti-immigrant, anti- Muslim, and anti-African American programs.
- Said the racist incident at Charlottesville was a “Deep State operation facilitated by the media and Democrats.”
- Thought that the attempted pipe bomb attacks on Democrats and media figures was a liberal attempt to improve the electoral prospects for Democrats.
In responding to Representative Finchem and the American Federation of Children, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman stated:
“It has been and remains my administration’s intent to run the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) program effectively to serve enrolled students and families. With the ESA program’s exponential growth in recent years, the legislature’s failure to adequately fund the program’s management has resulted in an increased burden for families. Parents should rightfully be upset by long hold times, and they should call their legislators and demand to know why there is over $3 million in dedicated ESA administrative funding sitting in an account, unavailable for use by the Arizona Department of Education to manage the ESA program.
The statute governing the ESA program allows for 4 percent of program funding to be allocated to cover program administration. Currently, our ESA Department receives less than half that amount – 1.62 percent. It is hypocritical for members of the legislature to attack the department on this issue when they have failed to fully fund the administration of this program year after year.
As of today, there are nearly 6,500 students on the ESA program, with more than 1,300 new applications waiting to be processed. We employ 10 full-time ESA specialists who are responsible for taking calls, processing applications and contracts, reviewing expense accounts, investigating misspent funds, and more. This equates to a caseload of roughly 650 ESA students to one specialist, which is unacceptable for workload realities.
Despite these challenges, my administration is actively working on solutions that will allow us to better serve those relying on this program. These solutions include moving to a new payment system which will be easier for parents to use, ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately, and reducing the need for parents to call the department with questions on expenditures. We plan to transition to this new system in the coming months. It is an incredibly busy time of year for our ESA department, and we have approved overtime for members of our ESA staff to work this weekend and we are also working to reallocate other department resources to help answer phones to reduce hold times. The bottom line is that the department is working diligently to administer this program, despite the lack of resources allocated by the legislature.
I have made it a priority since taking office to build working relationships with members of both parties in order to best serve students and families. Arizonans deserve government officials who will work together to solve problems and find solutions — especially when it comes to our children. I am disappointed that any lawmaker would participate in efforts that only serve to damage the relationship between the department and the legislature. We have already spoken with Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office about our shared commitment to transparency and ways we can work collaboratively to support students and families. I appreciate his office’s willingness to work with my administration.
I urge lawmakers to provide the full amount of allowable administrative funding, so the department can effectively implement and manage this program. To do any less does a disservice to students and families.”
Education Department spokespersons have indicated that funding and staffing for the E.S.A. program had also been an issue when Republican Diane Douglas held the Superintendent position. They also said that Finchem, his allies, and the American Federation of Children are potentially using this situation to wrest oversight of the ESA program from the Department of Education and shift it to the State Treasurers.
What does the State Treasurers office know about Education? In a word nothing.
This is a blatant attempt by reactionary legislators and their corporatist and advocacy allies to stop Superintendent Hoffman and her people from having thorough oversight of the ESA process.
Arizonans need to consider the source of this fabricated controversy (Mr. Finchem, the Federation, and their allies along with their records) and tell their elected representatives to fund and staff the ESA division like the Republican and Democratic Superintendents have been asking for over the last several years.
The people should also say that Education programs should be administered by Educators and not political hacks in another state office whose only qualification is the leadership of that office shares the same beliefs as the pro-voucher crowd.
Only qualified specialists should be in charge of children’s education. No one else.