An Arizona congressman wants a federal investigation into whether the state's top school official violated student privacy laws.
Rep. Raul Grijalva said “robocalls” made by John Huppenthal went to 15,000 families urging them to take advantage of a voucher-like program which enables them to get state tax dollars to send their children to private and parochial schools.
More to the point, Grijalva said the calls – paid for and completed by Alliance for School Choice – went to families whose students are in schools rated “D” or “F.” That makes them qualified for what are called “empowerment scholarship accounts.”
Grijalva said that suggests that Huppenthal made confidential student information available to the group that spent the $250,000 and targeted specific residents. He said that would run afoul of the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
The congressman asked federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan to investigate how the list of who got called was generated.
Huppenthal, in a prepared statement, said the state Department of Education did not provide any contact information to the Alliance for School Choice.
“Student privacy is of the highest priority for my administration and we work every day to ensure all student information is protected,” his statement reads.
Huppenthal has been under fire since the calls were first discovered. Some education groups said that Huppenthal, as superintendent of public instruction, should not be trying to divert tax dollars from public schools.
But the school superintendent pointed out the program was approved by the Legislature and is administered by his agency. “I felt this would be an effective way to inform people about the scholarship program,” he said.
The program provides eligible students with what amount to a voucher equal to 90 percent of what the state would pay to send that child to public schools.
It originally started as a program for only students with special needs. It has since been expanded to all students attending schools rated “D” or “F” by the state Department of Education, about 200,000 of the state's estimated 1.1 million students.
Legislation is pending this session to widen eligibility to approximately 600,000 students immediately – and open the door eventually to all students.