15-2403. Arizona empowerment scholarship accounts; administration; appeals; audit; rules; policy handbook
A. The treasurer may contract with private financial management firms to manage Arizona empowerment scholarship accounts.
B. The department shall conduct or contract for annual audits of Arizona empowerment scholarship accounts to ensure compliance with section 15-2402, subsection B, paragraph 4. The department shall also conduct or contract for random, quarterly and annual audits of Arizona empowerment scholarship accounts as needed to ensure compliance with section 15-2402, subsection B, paragraph 4.
C. The department may remove any parent or qualified student from eligibility for an Arizona empowerment scholarship account if the parent or qualified student fails to comply with the terms of the contract or applicable laws, rules or orders or knowingly misuses monies or knowingly fails to comply with the terms of the contract with intent to defraud and shall notify the treasurer. The department shall notify the treasurer to suspend the account of a parent or qualified student and shall notify the parent or qualified student in writing that the account has been suspended and that no further transactions will be allowed or disbursements made. The notification shall specify the reason for the suspension and state that the parent or qualified student has fifteen days, not including weekends, to respond and take corrective action. If the parent or qualified student refuses or fails to contact the department, furnish any information or make any report that may be required for reinstatement within the fifteen-day period, the department may remove the parent or qualified student pursuant to this subsection.
D. A parent may appeal to the state board of education any administrative decision the department makes pursuant to this article, including determinations of allowable expenses, removal from the program or enrollment eligibility. The department shall notify the parent in writing that the parent may appeal any administrative decision under this article and the process by which the parent may appeal at the same time the department notifies the parent of an administrative decision under this article. The state board of education shall establish an appeals process, and the department shall post this information on the department's website in the same location as the policy handbook developed pursuant to subsection K of this section.
E. A parent may represent himself or herself or designate a representative, not necessarily an attorney, before any appeals hearing held pursuant to this section. Any such designated representative who is not an attorney admitted to practice may not charge for any services rendered in connection with such a hearing. The fact that a representative participated in the hearing or assisted the account holder is not grounds for reversing any administrative decision or order if the evidence supporting the decision or order is substantial, reliable and probative.
F. The state board of education may refer cases of substantial misuse of monies to the attorney general for the purpose of collection or for the purpose of a criminal investigation if the state board of education obtains evidence of fraudulent use of an account.
G. The department shall make quarterly transfers of the amount calculated pursuant to section 15-2402, subsection C to the treasurer for deposit in the Arizona empowerment scholarship account of each qualified student, except the department may make transfers according to another transfer schedule if the department determines a transfer schedule other than quarterly transfers is necessary to operate the Arizona empowerment scholarship account.
H. The department shall accept applications between July 1 and June 30 of each year. The department shall enroll and issue an award letter to eligible applicants within thirty days after receipt of a completed application and all required documentation. On or before May 30 of each year, the department shall furnish to the joint legislative budget committee an estimate of the amount required to fund Arizona empowerment scholarship accounts for the following fiscal year. The department shall include in its budget request for the following fiscal year the amount estimated pursuant to section 15-2402, subsection C for each qualified student.
I. The state board of education may adopt rules and policies necessary to administer Arizona empowerment scholarship accounts, including rules and policies:
1. For establishing an appeals process pursuant to subsection D of this section.
2. For conducting or contracting for examinations of the use of account monies.
3. For conducting or contracting for random, quarterly and annual reviews of accounts.
4. For establishing or contracting for the establishment of an online anonymous fraud reporting service.
5. For establishing an anonymous telephone hotline for fraud reporting.
6. That require a surety bond or insurance for account holders.
J. The department shall contract with an independent third party for the purposes of determining whether a qualified student is eligible to receive educational therapies or services pursuant to section 15-2402, subsection B, paragraph 4, subdivision (c). If during any period on or after January 1, 2023 the department fails to ensure that a contract with an independent third party is in effect, during that period:
1. The county school superintendent of each county may approve a list of independent third parties within the county whose evaluation may be used to determine whether a student who resides within the county is eligible to receive educational therapies or services pursuant to section 15-2402, subsection B, paragraph 4, subdivision (c).
2. If the county school superintendent of a county does not provide a list of approved independent third parties within ninety days after the beginning of any period during which the department does not have a contract with an independent third party in effect as described in this subsection, the parent of a student who resides within the county has the right to obtain an independent educational evaluation from a qualified examiner to determine whether the student is eligible to receive educational therapies or services pursuant to section 15-2402, subsection B, paragraph 4, subdivision (c). The expense for an educational evaluation undertaken pursuant to this paragraph shall be provided by the school district within which the student resides and that serves the grade level of the student. For the purposes of this paragraph, "qualified examiner" means a licensed physician, psychiatrist or psychologist.
K. On or before July 1 of each year, the department shall develop an applicant and participant handbook that includes information relating to policies and processes of Arizona empowerment scholarship accounts. The policy handbook shall comply with the rules adopted by the state board of education pursuant to this section. The department shall post the handbook on its website.
L. Except for cases in which the attorney general determines that a parent or account holder has committed fraud, any expenditure from an Arizona empowerment scholarship account for a purchase that is deemed ineligible pursuant to section 15-2402 and that is subsequently repaid by the parent or account holder shall be credited back to the Arizona empowerment scholarship account balance within thirty days after the receipt of payment.
M. If, in response to an appeal of an administrative decision made by the department, the state board of education issues a stay of an Arizona empowerment scholarship account suspension pursuant to rules adopted by the board, the department may not withhold funding or contract renewal for the account holder on account of the appealed administrative decision during the stay unless directed by the board to do so.