Bias In The Media? Yer Kidd’in

Bias In The Media? Yer Kidd’in

How About A Little Integrity?

In his recent recent Op-Ed, Abe Kwok of the Arizona Republic stated the following:
 
“At the Capitol, lawmakers who so championed ESAs, such as Sen. Debbie Lesko, have been less enthusiastic about authorizing money for oversight that the law entitles and silent about the opaque inspection of the program”
 
There was one small problem with Abe’s statement, it was blatantly inaccurate.  Abe has been asked to correct his statement publicly to reflect the fact that the legislature did indeed take into account the auditor general’s concerns, and not only did we increase K-12 government school funding for ESA oversight to ADE, but we also increased accountability of ESAs on three fronts: administration, academic and financial.  Many legislators, including the LD-11 Team of Finchem, Roberts and Leach are calling for the same level of rigorous accountability to be extended to the government school system.

A “Fact Desert” Should Not Exist!

It is high time to hold the media accountable for reporting facts instead of republishing talking points written out for them supporting a singular agenda The Legislature has done all of the following to increase accountability and transparency of the ESA program in the ESA bill, now commonly referred to as SB1431:
  1. Required new financial management to provide for better data to the public, prevent fraud and misspending of resources and streamline the process for parents and students.
  2. Required monthly posting and updating of enrollment and financial data.
  3. Removed opportunities for fraud and abuse with removing certain eligible expenses.
  4. Given ADE more authority to confirm public school attendance.
  5. Appropriated additional resources to support ADE with a total of $1.2 million for FY2018.
  6. Required an open and transparent process for developing a policy handbook for the ESA program.
  7. Created an oversight council of the ESA program.

Then There Is The Proof…

The fact that there was additional accountability and transparency reforms included in SB1431 seems to always be left out of the carefully crafted, one-sided ESA attack. Here are some key points that are included in the legislation:

  1. Page 3, lines 11-14: ADE is given the power to ask for documentation and confirmation of previous public school attendance of local education agencies.
  2. Page 4, lines 17-21: Clearly prohibited students from “double dipping” with STO scholarships and ESAs.
  3. Page 5, lines 5-9: Eliminated contributions to Coverdell college savings accounts to ensure people don’t have the ability to stock pile cash.
  4. Page 6, lines 16-36: Required students in grades 3 through 12 to take standardized tests and have those results reported to parents.
  5. Page 10, lines 8-17: Required school with 50 or more ESA students to publicly post or make available student achievement results.
  6. Page 10, lines 26-29: Requires rather than allows the treasurer to contract with a private financial management firm to manage ESA’s. Requires ADE to cooperate with the financial management firm contracted by the Treasurer. This is in response to alleged misuse and mismanagement of resources. The Treasurer solicited responses for an RFP that was just recently closed.

 

It is our hope that the State Treasurer will choose a vendor that has the ability to catch misspending before it occurs, and create a platform where data is more easily identified and used. Private firms like this already exist, Class Wallet is just one example. You can click here to learn more about their product to streamline the ESA program and financial management.

Look Closely At The Statutory Language…

  1. Page 11, lines 18-28: Requires ADE to make monthly rather than quarterly transfers. This change will prevent large sums of money being deposited into accounts and allow parents to make monthly decisions. Furthermore, if a parent is found to be misusing the money the account can be shut down without thousands of dollars being locked in the account.
  2. Page 12, lines 25-40: Requires ADE to go through a process to develop and publish a policy handbook on the ESA program. It supports the collection of open public comments and will provide transparency for the public on how the programs polices work.
  3. Page 12, lines 41-45 and Page 13, lines 1-5: Requires ADE to publish data and update it monthly on all purchases and expenditures made with ESA dollars. Furthermore, requires data to include enrollment numbers disaggregated by various identifiers. This is the ultimate open checkbook and will allow the public to get regularly updated data and information. This will be the public’s ultimate tool for accountability.
  4. Page 20, lines 1-33: Creates the ESA Review Council. This council will oversee the implementation of this program and report on proposed legislation and policy changes. We see this as an opportunity to get the public involved and make the program better.

 

The notion that is often tossed about in the media that the Legislature is somehow not funding ADE has been a continued, baseless talking point. During the 2017 budget deliberations, the Legislature appropriated another $400,000 dollars to ADE specifically for ESA administration. This brings their total appropriation to about $1,200,000. Furthermore, as part of additional oversight to ensure these dollars are spent properly, it included JLBC review before those dollars can be spent. These resources should be overwhelmingly sufficient to provide adequate oversight, administration and accountability.

The Auditor General’s audit and report on the ESA program was helpful and SB1431 includes many portions of their recommendations. The Auditor General usually continues to follow up on agencies after a report is issued to notify the Legislature of its progress.

The Legislature has made major strides legislatively to make the ESA program accountable and transparent to the taxpayer with SB1431. It is time that ADE do its part to administer the program successfully. At some point, the conversation may need to be can the private sector or a different agency do it better if concerns continue.

By design these new legislative actions supporting accountability and transparency calls upon ADE and the Treasurer to implement more rigorous accountability than any public school district must face, all in support of a highly performing education program.

In Conclusion

The Legislature has done all of the following to increase accountability and transparency of the ESA program:

  1. Required new financial management to provide for better data to the public, prevent fraud and misspending of resources and streamline the process for parents and students.
  2. Required monthly posting and updating of enrollment and financial data.
  3. Removed opportunities for fraud and abuse with removing certain eligible expenses.
  4. Given ADE more authority to confirm public school attendance.
  5. Appropriated additional resources to support ADE with a total of $1.2 million for FY2018.
  6. Required an open and transparent process for developing a policy handbook for the ESA program.
  7. Created an oversight council of the ESA program.

 

It is indeed ironic that the very same people who support open enrollment for their public school district, a system that pulls children (and the taxpayer money that follows them) away from one school district to another, so vociferously attack the same concept when a child goes to another school using an ESA.

Maybe school boards should examine the real issue, the “product” that they are delivering to their clients.  What we are seeing in many cases is a vote of no confidence for specific schools and school districts, where ESA’s have simply given parents the key to unlock their child’s potential by purchasing a better product.  As one non-ESA user constituent parent recently told me, “If government school administrators don’t face this defective product issue, public schools systems will, over time, become irrelevant.”

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