Arizona Scholarship Program Needs New Equipment

Published: Monday, June 2, 2014 - 10:53am
Updated: Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - 7:41pm

An Arizona scholarship program is in dire need of updated equipment to keep up with growing demand, according to the employees who run it.

Three workers are currently tracking more than 680 students in the state's Empowerment Scholarship Account program through paper files, the Arizona Capitol Times reports.

Aiden Fleming, who administers the program for the Arizona Department of Education, says the department only received $200,000 for the 2015 fiscal year to help with administrative costs. The department initially requested $400,000.

More funds could help automate the program in a more sophisticated database, Fleming said.

"If you suddenly drop 10,000 kids on our plate, yeah, obviously we're going to have to look at what we're doing," Fleming said.

The program provides 90 percent of basic state aid to children who leave regular public schools. Those who leave charter schools also get 90 percent of the extra money those charters receive. It started in 2011 as a scholarship and voucher program for disabled students.

The program is currently capped at 5,000 students through 2019. However, nearly 2,500 parents have applied for their kids to be in the program for the 2014-15 school year. The rise is partly due to expansions in recent years to students with unique qualifications such as being in kindergarten or having a parent who was killed in war action.

Fleming said the program in general needs more oversight and accountability.

Stacey Morley, a lobbyist for the Arizona Department of Education, said the program is consistently scrutinized. The department audits each scholarship account every quarter rather than once a year as required by law, Morley said.

"I don't want a parent to misspend money and then at the end of the year I have to tell them they have to give me $10,000," Morley said.

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