Report: Arizona Parents Misspend $700,000 In School Vouchers

Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2018 - 7:08pm
Updated: Wednesday, October 31, 2018 - 1:13pm
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A state report has found lax oversight continues to allow parents to misspend money from Empowerment Scholarship Accounts meant to support their child’s education.

Arizona voters will decide next week whether to expand the program when they vote yes or no on Proposition 305.

The updated report identified more than $700,000 in misspending — most of which hasn’t been returned to the state.

“The department was not taking steps to systematically monitor program spending to look for unusual activity that might be a sign that misspending is going to occur,” said Jeff Gove, a performance audit manager in the Auditor General’s Office

ESAs, also called school vouchers by some, allow parents to take their kids out of public school and pay for an alternative with taxpayer dollars — 90 percent of what would have gone to the school.

Among the Auditor General’s Office findings:

  • Issues first identified in 2016 persist including lax review of expense reports and actions to correct misspending, continue to be a problem.
  • Multiple expense reports flagged as high risk were not reviewed up to a year later.
  • Policies to remove families who misuse the program were not always enforced.

The Arizona Department of Education manages the ESA program.

Superintendent Diane Douglas said the legislature has underfunded their department. For example, in fiscal year 2018 there was $2.6 million set aside to administer the program, but the legislature only granted the department permission to spend $1.2 million.

“I find it almost incomprehensible because the money is there,” Douglas said. “It can’t go anywhere else or be spent anywhere else except the oversight of this program”

She said her staff, had done a “phenomenal job,” give the limitations.

The Arizona Republic reported Republican state senator Bob Worsley said his caucus "has been, probably, overly enthusiastic about ESAs, and vouchers in general, and therefore anything that would... make it more difficult, it would not be a high priority for them."

Precisely 5,042 students used $58,711,229 from Empowerment Scholarship Accounts last year — about double the number from two years ago.

The Department of Education has 13 full-time staffers devoted to the program.

“We’re the ones that quite frankly have all the heavy lifting in the program,” Douglas said.  

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