In an op-ed by the Arizona Daily Independent, written by Jason Bedrick, opponents of Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program, notably Save Our Schools Arizona (SOS), took issue with parents using ESA funds on varied educational products and services. Bedrick writes:
In her ABC15 interview, Beth Lewis [SOS executive director] said the quiet part out loud:
“I, as a working mom, cannot drive my kids around to swimming practice in the morning, and horseback riding in the afternoon, and then teach them some math, and then bring them to a tutoring center to do some writing.”
In other words, Lewis chooses a traditional public school as a one-stop-shop for all her children’s educational needs, but she can’t stand that other families are choosing differently for their children, so she has appointed herself as the Handicapper General to put a stop to it. It’s FOMO as public policy.
Contrary to the uproar, the article highlights the flexibility and benefits of ESAs. All K-12 Arizona students are eligible for ESA funds to use on tuition, tutoring, curricula, online courses, special-needs therapy, and more. With unmatched fiscal accountability, the ESA program had a negligible 0.001% rate of improper payments. According to Bedrick:
The ESA program’s level of fiscal accountability is practically unrivaled. The most recent review of the ESA program by Arizona Auditor General found that out of 168,020 approved transactions, there was only a single “successful transaction at an unapproved merchant totaling $30.”
In other words, the ESA program’s rate of improper payments to unapproved merchants was only 0.001 percent. By contrast, over the past four years, the rates of improper payments for the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program were 16 percent and 23 percent, respectively.
Despite SOS’s criticisms of ESA parents’ spending on martial arts or music lessons, the article underscores that these are indeed educational and beneficial for a child’s holistic growth. Critiques by SOS seem to stem from a difference in choices made by families for their children’s education. Yet, many ESA parents, like Leila Woodard, see the program as a chance to tailor education to their child’s specific needs:
“Not all children fit within the box of public education,” said Leila Woodard, the mother of a 7-year-old boy with autism and other disabilities, to ABC15. Her child “had been kicked out of a couple of schools; they couldn’t accommodate his needs.” Now she’s running a “homeschool pod” for her son and four friends, and using their ESA funds on tutors and classroom supplies.
“I think we’re seeing a lot of people very happy with the program and how it’s helping their children,” Woodard told ABC15. “The families that I’ve talked to are all using it correctly, in my opinion, and doing amazing things.”
Read the entire op-ed HERE.