Arizona school voucher oversight committee didn't review data breach, share report

Published: Monday, November 20, 2023 - 4:04pm

A committee convened by the Arizona Legislature to provide oversight for the state’s school voucher program wrapped up its business last week without discussing a data breach that exposed student information.

The Arizona Department of Homeland Security issued a report in July that concluded a permissions setting error allowed a parent to view data about other voucher families in ClassWallet, the third-party vendor that administers the Empowerment Scholarship Account program. That data included addresses, student names and disability categories.

That report, which was forwarded to the Arizona Attorney General’s office, implicated two former Arizona Department of Education staffers who administered the program, according to an executive summary released to the press.

“The elevated privileges of the student/parent ESA account and associated unintentional disclosure were the result of a personnel error caused by an Arizona Department of Education ESA program administrator,” according to the executive summary, which does not name the implicated staffer.

Christine Accurso, a voucher advocate who Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne hired to oversee the program in January 2023, resigned her position shortly before the investigation became public. Linda Rizzo, an aid to Accurso, also resigned. 

Arizona House Speaker Ben Toma, who chaired the House’s committee on ESA oversight and governance, never asked ADE leadership to address the issue over the course of two committee meetings this year. 

“Employee matters are an ADE thing,” Toma said. “It’s not going to be something that we’re going to be concerned about.” 

Doug Nick, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Education, said it defers to the state Department of Homeland Security when dealing with IT issues. 

Democratic Rep. Judy Schweibert, who also served on the oversight committee, said lawmakers should have taken a closer look at the data breach during the committee hearings but that Toma blocked those questions.

“But frankly the tone and structure of the meeting were completely controlled by the chair, and he didn’t really seem interested in discussing any problems that may shed a negative light on the universal ESA voucher program,” Schweibert said.

Schweibert said she has yet to see the full investigative report compiled by the state Department of Homeland Security in July.

“It would be great to make sure it does get released, and I will be asking questions about that,” she said.

Gov. Katie Hobbs told reporters in August that Attorney General Kris Mayes’ office was looking into the data breach, but a spokesman for the AG declined to comment when asked if she is still investigating the case.

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