Make no mistake, elections have immense consequences. In some cases, those consequences are historic victories for the American people such as the lowest ever unemployment rate for blacks, Hispanics and women, the return of manufacturing jobs, generationally significant wage growth for lower and middle income Americans, and numerous other accomplishments, as we have experienced under President Trump. Unfortunately, however, oftentimes those consequences are division, government corruption, wasteful spending, higher taxation and more, as we have seen in places like California, New York, Colorado and other bastions of leftism throughout our nation.
Arizona, a historically deep red state and my home state, is not immune to these negative electoral consequences. Arizona’s recently elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, Democrat Kathy Hoffman, launched her 2018 campaign out of staunch opposition to the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA)—a statutorily authorized school choice program designed to provide educational freedom for children with disabilities, children in failing public schools, the children of the men and women serving in our armed forces, and select other groups of children. Last week, those very ESA families’ personal information, including whether or not the children had disabilities, was “accidentally” released to the media, as well as a Democrat activist group, which campaigns aggressively against educational freedom and for massive tax increases to fund public schools.
According to news reports in the Arizona Capitol Times and its affiliated Yellow Sheet Report, a spreadsheet with information on more than 7,000 ESA parents was provided to Yellow Sheet in response to a public records request. The names of parents and size of scholarship awarded were blacked out; however, when Yellow Sheet began to highlight parts of the spreadsheet they found they were able to reveal the parents’ names and scholarship size, as well as a code used to describe if a child has a special need and, if so, the specifics of that child’s special need.
This is an abhorrent breach of student privacy and likely privacy laws at both the federal and state levels, not to mention these special needs children’s civil rights.
A large number of families in the ESA program are there because they have a child with special needs. Raising a child with disabilities and trying to make sure the child gets the individualized education required is hard enough without the added stress and concern of potential harassment or downstream repercussions of having private, personal information exposed to the public. The safety and well-being of those children and their families must be our top priority.
I heartily commend Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich for his swift action to immediately review the ESA disclosure to determine if his office has any independent jurisdiction to address the matter. Brnovich was spot on when he tweeted, “Data privacy and confidentiality are serious matters. The disclosure of confidential ESA information is concerning. We have referred potential federal privacy law violations to the U.S. Attorney for Arizona for review and further investigation if warranted.”
Given the severity of the situation and the seemingly clear violations of privacy law, it is imperative that a robust outside investigation immediately take place. Superintendent Kathy Hoffman should allow investigators full and unrestricted access to all materials they deem pertinent in order to ensure that this never happens again and that proper protocols are put in place to prevent future Arizona families and children from suffering the same invasion of their privacy that has occurred here.
Children and families benefiting from educational freedom opportunities, whether due to a disability, failing neighborhood school, or a familial situation should not be the targets of avoidable privacy breaches of this kind. Regardless of whether this situation was caused by willful intent or carelessness, someone must be held accountable. As the politician responsible for the mess, the buck stops with Superintendent Kathy Hoffman.
With nearly three full years of her first term remaining, we can only wonder whether this will be the catalyst that forces her to shake off the activist roots that she built her campaign on and begin administrating the Department of Education in good faith and in accordance with state and federal law. Will she finally stop feigning impartial execution of her duties, while subtly implementing her anti-educational freedom agenda through bureaucratic red tape and manufactured administrative overload? For the sake of Arizona’s children, let us hope so; however, only time will tell.