That’s what school choice opponents claim.
In a recent article on Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) in the News and Observer, Keith Poston of the Public School Forum said the newly- approved ESA program for special needs students is “very high risk in terms of abuse.”
Keith Poston has a right to his opinion. He doesn’t have a right to his own facts.
Some relevant background. Under the new ESA program, parents of eligible special needs children would receive up to $9000 to use for educational expenses. Money could be used to pay for private school tuition, medical therapies, books, tutoring and other approved expenses. Most importantly, the new legislation stipulates ESA recipients will be required to file quarterly reports of expenses with each quarterly disbursement of funds. Misuse of funds will result in loss of the scholarship and prosecution. Also referenced in the article is an Arizona state audit of that state’s ESA program. The report found $102,000 in misspent funds, what you didn’t hear is that the money constitutes less than one percent of total ESA spending. The fact is, most any state agency would be happy with such results.
Later in the same article Poston claims the ESA program has “virtually no oversight and accountability, and this program may be the worst in the lot in accountability measures.”
Wrong again. Schools that enroll ESA recipients are accountable to their students in a number of ways. Such schools are already required to comply with various health, safety and nondiscriminatory regulations. Academic quality in ESA schools is monitored through membership in various accrediting associations as well as having students participate in nationally-recognized standardized tests. In addition to these efforts, the State Agency that administers the ESA program (State Education Assistance Authority) is required to conduct annual audits of the Personal Education Savings Account and can remove parents or recipients from the program if they fail to comply with the terms of the parental agreement. In addition, recipient schools are subject to an audit if they receive a certain number of ESA recipients. The SEAA is also required to furnish the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee a report detailing the makeup of PESA recipients and the number of fraud cases as well as the number of students removed from the program.
Because ESA schools are not subject to the same requirements as the public schools, don’t mistake the current conditions with a lack of accountability. Such a statement incorrectly assumes that private school accountability should look the same as the public schools. Accountability is important. However, it’s also important that the type of accountability fit the school.
Schools that accept ESAs are not only accountable to their students in the ways previously mentioned, but include the ultimate source of accountability – parents. Since private schools derive the overwhelming majority of their revenue from tuition, these schools have a built-in incentive to be receptive to the concerns of parents – or risk closing. If parents are dissatisfied with the education their child is receiving, they can remove the child from the school. It is a form of accountability that doesn’t exist in the vast majority of public schools.
ESAs work, include a variety of accountability mechanisms and expand the array of educational options available to parents. They are a lifeline for parents whose children’s special or academic needs aren’t being served by the public schools. That’s the truth. Just ask parents in Arizona and Florida, states with large and popular ESA programs.
Opponents of school choice continue to cling to the strategy that if you repeat something often enough people may believe it – even if the statements aren’t true.
Facts have a habit of getting in the way. And, trying to deny them won’t make them go away.