Parental choice takes several forms, but arguably none as appealing as education savings accounts. Arizona was a pioneer in establishing them in 2011. But what has happened there serves as a cautionary tale for other states (“Cosmetics and Clothes: Parents Misspent $700,000 in Arizona’s School Choice Program,” Education Week, Nov. 19).
The way they work likely explains why. The state deposits 90 percent of per-student funds allocated to a participating pupil into a dedicated bank account. Parents are given a debit card to spend the money on a list of approved educational expenses. But some parents have been using the money for prohibited purchases such as cosmetics, clothing and travel.
Arizona has not aggressively monitored the program until recently. The only way to do so is to track cash withdrawals on a daily basis, rather than wait until parents have run up thousands of dollars of withdrawals. Education savings accounts are not personal piggy banks to be used as parents alone see fit.
Florida uses the accounts also, but the state does not administer the program. Instead, two non-profit groups are charged with that responsibility. Yet even under that system abuses are possible unless oversight is systematic. The lesson to be learned is that parental choice funding requires constant accounting.
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