ESA Vouchers: Zero Accountability By Design

ESA Vouchers: Zero Accountability By Design

Arizona’s ESA voucher program is the least accountable in the entire nation. Read on to discover why Save Our Schools Arizona has led the fight in Arizona and across the nation against this unaccountable program.

Arizona’s Voucher System Has the Lowest Standards In the Nation

Arizona’s ESA (Empowerment Scholarship Account) voucher system is the least accountable in the entire country, with no standards in place for financial or academic accountability, transparency, or student safety. Universal ESA vouchers were passed by the Arizona state legislature (run by a razor-thin Republican majority) under former Governor Doug Ducey. Every single one of Democrats’ attempts to ensure academic reporting, child safety, anti-discrimination protections and more were outright rejected during debate by the far-right Arizona legislature. Now that program enrollment has skyrocketed, it’s more clear than ever that the utter lack of accountability and transparency of the program is a feature, not a bug. 

Vouchers are an irresponsible, ill-conceived policy rife with opportunities for abuse, opening our education system and children to grifters and con artists. Let’s run down the various ways the ESA voucher program fails any measure of accountability to Arizona’s taxpayers. 

No Checks on Waste, Fraud, and Abuse

District schools are required to be accountable for every dollar spent. As intended, public funds used to fund public schools are subject to public scrutiny and are governed by publicly elected school boards. You can find detailed accounting of how Arizona’s districts and charters spend their money via the Arizona Auditor General and the Arizona Department of Administration. With ESA vouchers, taxpayers have a right to know their dollars are being spent responsibly – just like public schools. 

By design, Arizona’s ESA voucher system lacks all financial transparency. In addition to funding private schools and home schools, vouchers are also used to fund “microschools,” a type of group homeschooling with “guides” that watch the students as they complete correspondence work. Many of these “guides” are not required to be trained prior to delivering instruction, they are not even subject to background checks potentially placing children in the care of dangerous adults. These schools are funded with a confusing mix of charter and voucher funding that toes the line regarding legality. There is no formal reporting on how taxpayer dollars are being spent through vouchers – but the examples populating ESA parent groups show vouchers funding nonessential (and even luxury) expenses like trampolines, gourmet espresso machines, chicken coops, and cowboy classes

There is no mechanism to return ESA voucher funds to our public schools. Even if a student disenrolls, voucher-funded schools, tutors and vendors are not required to return funds they have already received, even if the student returns to public school. Once a private school, tutor or vendor receives ESA voucher funding, there are no further requirements or follow-ups from the Arizona Department of Education. These private entities, unlike public schools, do not have to open up their finances to the public despite receiving millions in public funds. 

District schools are required to be accountable for every dollar spent. As intended, public funds used to fund public schools are subject to public scrutiny and are governed by publicly elected school boards. You can find detailed accounting of how Arizona’s districts and charters spend their money via the Arizona Auditor General and the Arizona Department of Administration. With ESA vouchers, taxpayers have a right to know their dollars are being spent responsibly – just like public schools. 

By design, Arizona’s ESA voucher system lacks all financial transparency. In addition to funding private schools and home schools, vouchers are also used to fund “microschools,” a type of group homeschooling with “guides” that watch the students as they complete correspondence work. Many of these “guides” are not required to be trained prior to delivering instruction, they are not even subject to background checks potentially placing children in the care of dangerous adults. These schools are funded with a confusing mix of charter and voucher funding that toes the line regarding legality. There is no formal reporting on how taxpayer dollars are being spent through vouchers – but the examples populating ESA parent groups show vouchers funding nonessential (and even luxury) expenses like trampolines, gourmet espresso machines, chicken coops, and cowboy classes

There is no mechanism to return ESA voucher funds to our public schools. Even if a student disenrolls, voucher-funded schools, tutors and vendors are not required to return funds they have already received, even if the student returns to public school. Once a private school, tutor or vendor receives ESA voucher funding, there are no further requirements or follow-ups from the Arizona Department of Education. These private entities, unlike public schools, do not have to open up their finances to the public despite receiving millions in public funds. 

No Learning Guaranteed

Universal ESA vouchers have no curriculum requirements, no testing requirements, and no certification requirements for teachers. In fact, the ADE under Superintendent Horne stripped out previous rigorous credentialing requirements in place for tutors. Now, all that’s required of instructors is a mere high school diploma to provide core instruction to Arizona students. Studies show that well-trained and certified teachers are critical to student success and strong academic outcomes – stripping credentialing requirements away promotes the exact opposite. 

With ESA vouchers, these unqualified and inexperienced “tutors” can teach virtually anything and use state dollars to do so – including outright indoctrination. There are multiple examples of white supremacists and far-right curricula in circulation among Arizona homeschool students and private schools, including Hillsdale, Abeka, Bob Jones U, and the so-called “School of the West.” Arizona is also the home of far-right provocateur Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point Academies, voucher-funded schools dedicated to “advancing all types of faith-based, conservative values education with special emphasis on seeding ‘5C Schools:’ Christian, classical, conservative, church-based and cost-affordable.” In Ohio, which also lacks curriculum requirements for homeschooled students, the State Department of Education recently discovered a white supremacist homeschooling network that shares Nazi-related resources but did not have the authority under state law to do anything about it. There is nothing in place to prevent a similar network from emerging in Arizona.

While there is nothing stopping a parent from teaching their child whatever they’d like, Arizona voters resoundingly agree they should not use taxpayer dollars to spread hate and misinformation. Education is publicly funded to ensure a common education that fosters responsible citizenship  – far-right, white-washed history does the opposite. 

Universal ESA vouchers have no curriculum requirements, no testing requirements, and no certification requirements for teachers. In fact, the ADE under Superintendent Horne stripped out previous rigorous credentialing requirements in place for tutors. Now, all that’s required of instructors is a mere high school diploma to provide core instruction to Arizona students. Studies show that well-trained and certified teachers are critical to student success and strong academic outcomes – stripping credentialing requirements away promotes the exact opposite. 

With ESA vouchers, these unqualified and inexperienced “tutors” can teach virtually anything and use state dollars to do so – including outright indoctrination. There are multiple examples of white supremacists and far-right curricula in circulation among Arizona homeschool students and private schools, including Hillsdale, Abeka, Bob Jones U, and the so-called “School of the West.” Arizona is also the home of far-right provocateur Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point Academies, voucher-funded schools dedicated to “advancing all types of faith-based, conservative values education with special emphasis on seeding ‘5C Schools:’ Christian, classical, conservative, church-based and cost-affordable.” In Ohio, which also lacks curriculum requirements for homeschooled students, the State Department of Education recently discovered a white supremacist homeschooling network that shares Nazi-related resources but did not have the authority under state law to do anything about it. There is nothing in place to prevent a similar network from emerging in Arizona.

While there is nothing stopping a parent from teaching their child whatever they’d like, Arizona voters resoundingly agree they should not use taxpayer dollars to spread hate and misinformation. Education is publicly funded to ensure a common education that fosters responsible citizenship  – far-right, white-washed history does the opposite. 

No Protections for Arizona’s Kids

One of the most concerning aspects of the universally-expanded ESA voucher program is the total lack of child safety measures. Public schools require rigorous background checks and fingerprinting for everyone regularly interacting with students including substitutes and parent volunteers, and there are systems in place to deal with physical, mental and emotional health as well as any allegations of improper behavior. There are no safety requirements or background checks for private school teachers, ESA tutors, or ESA vendors in order to receive voucher funding and no systems in place to deal with reports of bad actors. After an ESA vendor was arrested for 8 felony child sex crimes, his karate studio remains listed as an approved ESA vendor.

One of the most concerning aspects of the universally-expanded ESA voucher program is the total lack of child safety measures. Public schools require rigorous background checks and fingerprinting for everyone regularly interacting with students including substitutes and parent volunteers, and there are systems in place to deal with physical, mental and emotional health as well as any allegations of improper behavior. There are no safety requirements or background checks for private school teachers, ESA tutors, or ESA vendors in order to receive voucher funding and no systems in place to deal with reports of bad actors. After an ESA vendor was arrested for 8 felony child sex crimes, his karate studio remains listed as an approved ESA vendor.

ESA Vouchers: Disaster By Design

Any school that receives taxpayer dollars should follow the same requirements as public district and charter schools – requirements put in place to keep children safe, guarantee they’re learning, and ensure public funds are being used properly.  

The bottom line is, universal ESA vouchers are ineffective, costly, and potentially put our kids at risk. ESA vouchers are unaccountable, abuse taxpayer dollars, and lack transparency. It’s time to stop well-funded special interests bent on dismantling public education and turning Arizona children into sources of profit.

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