Bounce Houses? Espresso Machines? Home Gyms? ESA Vouchers are Being Used as a Taxpayer ATM
ESA vouchers are so unregulated that they’ve become a taxpayer-funded ATM for homeschool and private school families. With reports of misuse and wildly inappropriate expenditures, plus JLBC reports of an “unheard of” $200 million in unbudgeted costs, Governor Hobbs’ call to roll back universal vouchers is becoming increasingly critical.
What are ESAs Being Used For, Anyway?
Many people who have heard of universal ESA vouchers assume they’re solely being used for elite private schools, like Brophy Prep and Seton Catholic. That’s one usage of course (subsidizing the wealthy who were already choosing and paying for private schools), but the reality is that universal ESA vouchers have become a cash cow for many private expenses and purchases for homeschool families, and the results of handing folks $7,000 with no strings attached are…. well, exactly what you’d expect.
ESA voucher funds have already been widely misused to buy home gyms, bounce houses, espresso machines, water filtration systems, $600 bicycles, designer barstools, Sea World trips, and more. Watch this video of Rep. Kelli Butler reading off of the approval site:
Newly elected, scandal-ridden Superintendent Tom Horne has already hidden the website Rep. Butler was reading from. (So much for transparency, right?) But reports from vendors and users show these abuses are ballooning exponentially, as the program has rapidly grown by 400% under the universal voucher expansion.
Supt. Horne Approves $22 Million in One Day
In his inaugural State of Education speech, Supt. Horne bragged about approving $22 million in taxpayer funds for ESA expenditures in just one day. According to the nonpartisan Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC), the program has already racked up $200 million in unbudgeted costs. As Horne said in his speech, “Under [new ESA Director] Christine Accurso, that first day, they approved 25,000 reimbursements amounting to $22 million.” This begs the question: how can a program be run responsibly and transparently if 52 approvals are being made per minute?
So… how does this all work? Universal ESA voucher recipients receive $7,000 in their account (outsourced to a third-party corporation called ClassWallet). These recipients may then purchase approved goods and services using a ClassWallet debit card or using their own Amazon/Venmo accounts which can be reimbursed by the state. Arizona has over 3,000 approved ESA vendors ranging from private schools to swim lessons, in-home Spanish and guitar lessons from folks with zero background checks, essential oils and online learning services, and curriculum vendors.
Parents can also download any curriculum they can find online to justify “educational” purchases on Amazon to support that curriculum.
- Want a new espresso machine? Download a “barista curriculum” and purchase an $800 Breville machine on Amazon, all reimbursed by the state.
- Want a new home gym? Download a curriculum for physical education, then order your Bowflex or NordicTrack through the Arizona Department of Education.
- Want a yearly membership to the Phoenix Zoo? Download the zoo’s curriculum and order a family membership.
The Arizona Department of Education, run by Horne, is responsible for approving or denying all of these taxpayer-funded purchases. This is why Horne’s $22 million in approved expenditures in one day is extremely troubling. At the very least, taxpayers should expect responsible review, if not a thorough audit, of this flood of dollars.
But Public School Parents Have to Pay Their Way?
When Arizona public school parents learn that ESA families are using taxpayer dollars to pay for gymnastics, music classes, football clubs, and bounce club memberships, we expect a revolt. Hardworking Arizonans are searching their couch cushions to pay for extracurricular experiences for their kids, while voucher families just use taxpayer funds via what amounts to an Amazon credit card.
Arizona public school teachers are forced either to “make do” with scarce and insufficient resources or to fund essential classroom supplies and learning materials out of their own pockets, onerous Donors Choose projects, and grants that take months to apply for — all while ESA users are receiving ample brand-new materials with no questions asked.
PTOs are fundraising for Kleenex and printer paper, while ESA families are buying bounce houses and Tower Gardens.
It’s not a bug, it’s a feature. Any parent or educator in a public school should be asking, “Why should we settle for crumbs while the legislature irresponsibly shovels unfettered cash at unaccountable private options?”