MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - A family in Laveen is scrambling to get their son the schooling he needs after an error with his education voucher from the state.
First, their application was approved. But then the voucher got rescinded.
One of the things that can qualify a student for a voucher is special needs. Though Emerson Retel does have special needs, the Arizona Department of Educations says he didn’t attend enough public school to even apply for the voucher.
At 7 years old, Emerson is still behind in language. Last year, he was home-schooled but attended Eagleridge Enrichment Center, which is funded by Mesa Public Schools a couple days a week for a speech program there. His parents say Eagleridge encouraged them to apply for a voucher from the state.
In February, the voucher was approved for more than $6,200. Then in July, it was all taken away.
“Honestly I was shocked because we had the dollar amount, we had the approval,” said Michael Retel, Emerson’s father. “For five months, we had just assumed that everything was going to be OK, and then all of the sudden we got this letter that said he hadn’t attended public school for the first 100 days of the school year.”
In order to apply for the voucher, the student has to attend the first 100 days of the year at a public school. But since Eagleridge isn’t a full-time public school, the Arizona Department of Education says Emerson didn’t qualify.
Eagleridge then noticed a total of 27 of their students were also erroneously approved.
“We have to take school districts at their word,” Arizona Department of Education spokesman Richie Taylor said. “We don’t have the resources to double-check everything the school is telling us.”
Taylor says the combination of a late state budget this year and lean staffing are to blame. The voucher program is also constantly growing-- more than 6,500 students are part of it this year.
The Arizona Department of Education has 13 employees administering the voucher program-- that’s because the legislature only approved $1.2 million towards that aspect, though they could have allotted as much as $3 million.
“Until the legislature appropriates that money, we can only do so much,” Taylor said.
“If they only have 13 people and they have a stack of approved applications, why are they taking the time instead of processing the applications of other people that are applying? Why are they taking their time to go back and look at old applications?” Retel said.
The Retels are appealing the state’s decision. Meanwhile, they’re still homeschooling Emerson, but they don’t have the money that they were going to spend on a private speech therapist -- money they say they rightfully deserve.
Retel says he hasn’t heard whether other Eagleridge families have gotten rejection letters like Emerson’s. The Retels don’t want the other families to miss out on their funding, and they simply want Emerson to get his funding.