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What to Make of Fraud in ESA Programs

By: Mike McShane

This article appeared in Forbes.

Mike McShane, National Research Director at EdChoice, sets the record straight on a recent fraud scandal in Arizona that has been used to attack Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).

Last week, a grand jury indicted five former employees of the Arizona Department of Education for defrauding the state of at least $600,000. According to the Arizona Republic, they are accused of using fake birth certificates and other falsified documents to create “ghost students” in the state’s education savings account program and then pocketing the funding that those fake students were due to receive.
Unfortunately, fraud in education is not new. Back in 2021, Dr. Angela Denise Birdwell of the Higley school district in Gilbert, Arizona, was indicted on 18 counts of fraud for accepting kickbacks from building contractors. In that same year, both a superintendent and an employee of the Arizona Department of Education were indicted on felony charges for stealing federal grant money. In 2022, the former superintendent and another employee of the Toltec school district were indicted on a host of charges including falsely inflating their benefits from the state retirement system and fronting unauthorized loans to themselves. And remember, this is just in Arizona and in the past few years.

Fraud is an unfortunate part of any government program. People would get fired up if someone committing food stamp fraud was used as a reason to question the legitimacy of food stamps in general. It is the same thing with an ESA program.
Tens of thousands of Arizona families are utilizing the ESA program to find better options for their children. To call into question that program because of some ill-intentioned staffers at the state department of education is inappropriate and wrong.


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