Last week WRAL-TV and wral.com ran an article on a provision in the Senate education budget that calls for the creation of personal education savings accounts (ESAs) for special needs students. Under the legislation, parents could receive up to $9,000 to help pay for approved educational expenses and expenses would be paid by using a debit card.
Since Civitas has been championing ESAs for a number of years, I was interviewed by Cullen Browder to represent the “pro” side and comment on the proposal. Leannne Winner, Director of Governmental Relations for the North Carolina School Boards Association, represented the anti-ESA side and commented against the proposal.
Winner told WRAL the plan was a “voucher program on steroids.” She also said that other states with similar programs have had problems with debit card accountability.
Winner said, “In Arizona, we have seen parents buy big-screen TVs. There was one who was investigated for using the money to pay for an abortion,” she said.
These are some wild claims. They also happen to have no basis in fact.
Yes, the charges were made about individuals using the Arizona ESA program. However, the chargers were never proven. The accusations are false.
Winner says that states with similar programs have had problems with debit card accountability.
Five states offer Education Savings Accounts. However only two of the five – Arizona and Tennessee — use debit cards. Having just started earlier this year, Tennessee’s ESA program is in its infancy. A quick Google search of fraud and ESAs in Tennessee produces no results.
Which leaves us with Arizona, the state with the oldest ESA program in the nation.
So how widespread is fraud in the Arizona program?
An audit by the Arizona auditor general’s office found that less than one percent of total ESA spending was misspent. A commendable level by any government standard.
Baseless accusations have no place in this discussion.
ESAs provide hope for children who have difficulty fitting in to the traditional public school setting. That the School Boards Association opposes such efforts underscores once again that the real concern of the organization is not providing children with the best education possible, but ensuring that — above all else — the interests of the educational system are protected.