Some parents rip off taxpayer-paid scholarships, audit: most spending is legitimate

Posted at 9:43 PM, Jun 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-30 01:33:08-04

A growing state program that uses tax dollars to pay for private education has few instances of misspent money, but there were attempts to use the money to pay for a dating website, hotel charges, and fast food, according to a state audit report.

An Arizona Department of Education program distributes empowerment scholarships to qualifying students, including those with a disability or children in failing public schools.

The scholarship amounts, which range from $3,000 to more than $30,000, are loaded on a debit card and given to the child’s parent. The money is meant to pay only for necessary expenses like private school tuition, books, or tutors.

The program distributed an estimated $26 million to more than 2,200 students in 2016, the audit showed.

A review covering the six-month period ending in January revealed $35,000 in purchases that were not allowed and $33,000 in spending for students that were enrolled in a public school, which is prohibited.

Two parents bought $3,600 worth of books and educational materials using their state-issued scholarship debit card, then exchanged the items in-store for prohibited items, including “a snow globe, a “World of Warcraft” calendar, a sock money, and “The Walking Dead” board game,” according to the audit. The parents’ card was shut down and state prosecutors are reviewing the case.

The Department of Education is working to further strengthen its oversight of the program, according to an agency response to the audit.