Debunking a Brazen Lie about Education Savings Accounts

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(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

An article in the Texas Tribune regarding the push for education savings accounts contained an incredible whopper from the state teachers’ union lobbyist:

Monty Exter, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said education savings accounts are worse than vouchers because there is no good way to control how parents spend the money. The states that have implemented such programs have included no provisions that allow them to reclaim money if parents spend it on “a flatscreen TV or a bag of crack,” he said.

“Who’s to say that a laptop isn’t an educational expenditure, but who’s to say that it is? Who is going to police that?” he said. “Are we going to pay someone at the state level to monitor this program, and how much is that going to cost?”

Frankly, he should be embarrassed to be peddling a lie that is so easily debunked.

*All* of the existing ESA laws in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, and Tennessee contain financial accountability provisions to ensure that parents are spending the ESA funds only on approved educational expenses, which are clearly defined in law.

Like any government program (e.g., district schools), there is bound to be some amount of fraud. Fortunately, due to the tight financial controls, Arizona (the first state to enact an ESA law) has been able to recover misspent ESA funds. Moreover, an independent auditor recently determined than less than one percent of Arizona’s ESA funds were misspent, as the Goldwater Institute reports:

Last year, the state deposited nearly $26 million in families’ education savings accounts. The auditor uncovered misspending that totaled less than 0.8 percent of the distributed funds—an unacceptable amount, because any fraud involving taxpayer money and children is unacceptable. But it’s a manageable amount. The department of education should follow through on the auditor’s recommendations, as the agency stated it would in its response letter, and continue to improve the ways parents and students find quality learning opportunities with education savings accounts.

Arizona parents have spent more than 99% of ESA funds on approved educational products and services, and 100% of ESA parents surveyed in 2013 reported being satisfied with their child’s education.

The Texas teachers’ union needs a new talking point.

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9 Responses to Debunking a Brazen Lie about Education Savings Accounts

  1. Monty Exter says:

    First of all, I never said that ESA bills didn’t include lists of approved expenses. I said who is going to monitor the spending and how much is that going to cost? What I did say, is the bills don’t have provisions that will allow them to reclaim (mis)SPENT funds. Nevada, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arizona freeze your acct if they determine there is fraud but that doesn’t get back SPENT funds it just keeps additional funds from being spent. Three of the states TN, MS and NV seem to stop there all together. Arizona does at least report folks who are misspending funds to the AG. There does not however appear to be a requirement that anything actually be pursued past the reporting, not that is there a great way to get back funds from folks who don’t have them anyway. Trying to would cost the state money though. AZ may be able to use their tax code to attempt to rebill these folks. Though it didn’t make it into the article, I did mention the reporter that that is not an option in Texas because we have no tax that would allow for that. Property taxes are administered locally and not everyone pays them, sales tax is not a feasible mode to recollect these funds and Texas has no personal tax / income tax.

    On a side note you might want to consider whether or not the image you used in conjunction with your post is owned or not.

    • Patrick says:

      What is the process in Texas for when, say, a teacher is caught stealing from a school booster club or from the teacher association, or even school supplies like computers, microphones, or more?

    • pdexiii says:

      Should there be similar provisions to prevent welfare recipients from using their EBT cards at Starbuck’s, Randy’s Doughnuts, or Whole Foods?
      I can’t imagine any state-run program that dispenses funds not having fraud monitoring. At best your statement was partisan; at worst insensitive and bigoted.

  2. Matthew Ladner says:

    Monty-

    Could you let us know which state allows parents to purchase “a bag of crack” as an allowable expense?

    Also while the AZ law makes specific reference to criminal referral and other statutes may not, this in no way constitutes a “get out of jail free” card.

  3. Greg Forster says:

    Jay, what was it you said somewhere about getting into arguments with people who report metrics of their internet activity to their employers?

    Because this clearly wasn’t posted with the expectation it would make the poster look good.

  4. Ann in L.A. says:

    What is the fraud and financial misuse rate at public schools?

    Being in LAUSD, does the $1,300,000,000.00 LAUSD IPad program count?

  5. sstotsky says:

    When are some legal experts going to come up with a way for parents and other citizens to set aside all the money they pay in local taxes for local schools for an alternative public school system–one free of the CC project and tests? Alternative public school systems, K-12, each with its own elected policy-making board and supported by whoever chooses to direct their tax money to school system of choice, is the only meaningful way “choice” can be expanded.

  6. sstotsky says:

    Thanks, Greg. This one is getting closer. US Supreme Court is to decide constitutionality, it seems. And it’s for private school use. No private technical high schools exist, so far as I know.

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