June 22, 2024

Mercedes Schneider: Arizona School Voucher Program Funds Multiple $500+ Lego Purchases

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Researcher and teacher Mercedes Schneider looks into a recent report about exactly what Arizona’s taxpayer-funded vouchers are buying. Reposted with permission.

Arizona governor Katie Hobbs inherited a school voucher program that is projected to cost Arizona $1B annually unless the program is reined in.

In an October 2023 press release, Hoobs had some strong words about the exttravagant and excessive purchases allowed as part of Arizona’s underregulated school voucher program:

Latest Numbers Show School Voucher Recipients Officially Exceed Number Budgeted for in FY24 Budget

Phoenix, AZ – Governor Katie Hobbs released the following statement on news that the number of students receiving school vouchers has exceeded the 68,380 expected recipients in the bipartisan FY24 budget:

“The school voucher program is unaccountable and unsustainable. It does not save taxpayers money, and it does not provide a better education for Arizona students. Instead, taxpayer dollars are funding ski resort passes, luxury car driving lessons, and pianos because partisan politicians refuse to place real limits on the program. Now, the runaway spending threatens funding for state troopers fighting drug trafficking, social workers protecting Arizona’s most vulnerable children, and doctors caring for Veterans who sacrificed their health to protect our country. I call on Superintendent Horne, Speaker Toma, and President Petersen to join with bipartisan leaders to pass accountability and transparency measures, and bring an end to this wasteful, runaway spending.”

The new numbers come as reporting has shown school vouchers being used to fund pianos, ski resort passes, and luxury car driving lessons. While recipients splurge on luxury purchases, Superintendent Horne has spent hundreds of thousands  of taxpayer dollars advertising for the already over budget program.

With school vouchers exceeding the expected enrollment and budgeted $624 million in expenses, the program threatens to draw further revenue from the state’s General Fund, endangering money for firefighters, Veterans, drug and human trafficking interdiction programs, and child protective services, among other critical state services.

Regarding excessive, questionable purchases, one can add $500+ Lego sets to the list, as the June 07, 2024, 12News.com reports:

Last week, the state education department released 522 pages of Lego transaction records in response to a December 2023 records request from Save Our Schools. The transactions were made between April 2023 and January 2024 and were processed on Amazon through the voucher program’s third-party spending platform, Class Wallet.

The database is only a partial snapshot of all program Lego purchases over the 9-month time span. Parents can also buy products with their own money and seek reimbursement from the state education department.

According to Save Our Schools, the Class Wallet Amazon database shows there were about 26,000 total LEGO transactions. Close to 20,000 were labeled as “completed” and roughly 2,500 were labeled as “canceled” or “rejected,” the rest were not labeled.

Here’s the kicker:

Among high-end Lego purchases:

  •  an $1,800 Limited Edition Star Wars Super Star Destroyer
  •  a $905 Titanic set
  •  a $900 Harry Potter castle

One parent purchased 39 Lego sets in one transaction totaling $4,200.

As 12 News.com points out, in November 2023, Arizona school superintendent Tom Horne accused Save Our Schools (SOS) of lying about the extravagant Lego purchases; Horne apparently based his comments on a redacted SOS Twitter/X post and not on additional investivation into actual Lego purchases documented as payouts from his own state’s school voucher funds:

PHOENIX – State schools superintendent Tom Horne is refuting a series of lies being spread by Save Our Schools, saying the organization is using deceptive tactics to lie about Empowerment Scholarship Account reimbursements and Horne’s support for Jewish public school students.

Horne stated, “Contrary to a falsified document tweeted by Save Our Schools, no ESA parent has been reimbursed $500 to buy Legos. To be clear, district, charter and ESA students are allowed to use Legos. The issue here is a pattern of lying. Save Our Schools admitted they fabricated a document to make it look like a parent made a $500 purchase when she did not. By doing so they have misled both the Governor and a prominent newspaper columnist, both of whom have retweeted this lie.”

A screenshot from an X (formerly Twitter) post is attached and shows the communications person for Save Our Schools acknowledging the post was fabricated.

Yes, Legos can be used as educational manipulatives. However, the likes of a $900 Harry Potter castle or an $1800 Limited Edition Star Wars Super Star Destroyer points less to the “lying pattern” of SOS and more to the colassal exploitation of state funding that has Hobbs proposing “manual approval of purchases over $500 to ensure purchases are utilized for an academic purpose”– which might make it a bit tougher to explain wanting to use taxpayer money to purchase this:

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