Parents in Arizona fraudulently spent $700,000 of public money intended to help fund their children’s education during the 2018 fiscal year, according to a report by the state’s attorney general. The funding, from the state’s school choice program, was used to pay for prohibited items and services including cosmetics, clothing and computer technology support.
Arizona’s school choice program gives parents nearly absolute control over how state dollars are used on their children’s education. Tuition vouchers for private schools are prohibited by the state constitution so the program instead disburses 90 percent of the per-pupil state funding allocated to a participating student into a dedicated bank account. Parents are given a debit card to spend the funds on approved educational expenses, including private school tuition and home-schooling supplies.
Cash withdrawals and transactions at proscribed merchants are automatically declined and parents are required to submit quarterly expense reports to the state education department. But the state has been slow and inconsistent in reacting to fraudulent purchases and collecting misused funds.
“Imagine if public schools were held to that same standard, if they only had to report how they spent their funds, which they do, but what if that’s all they had to do,” said Oscar Jiménez-Castellanos, an education professor at Santa Clara University. “We would say we need to know a lot more about those schools.”
Abuse of the program has continued despite a 2016 audit uncovering similar issues.
Education Week, Nov. 19