It’s an impressive scam, to be honest.
This time last year, For AR People sounded the alarm about a few extra-dubious policies tucked into the entirely dubious LEARNS Act.
Education Freedom Accounts – otherwise known as vouchers – are the biggest and most egregious part of LEARNS. They’re terrible; just look at what’s going on in Arizona, which is staring down a $400 million shortfall. And this bill is coming due for Arkansas, which has already somehow gone from a billion dollar surplus to a $240 million surplus. The state’s finances don’t look good at all before we even get to vouchers.
So let’s get to vouchers.
After one pass at the 144 page bill, this small paragraph stood out:
The state may contract with any vendor to manage the voucher system, and this vendor can be paid up to 5% of EFA funds.
In February of 2023, we estimated that if every student currently enrolled in private school opts for an EFA account, $9.6 million in taxpayer dollars would be funneled to a private money management vendor.
Say it with us now: vouchers are a scam.
One way the Department could prove vouchers aren’t quite so scammy? Consider bids from multiple vendors and award a contact that gives the state the most bang for taxpayers’ buck. Well, that didn’t happen.
Thanks to some stellar reporting from the Arkansas Times, we’ve learned that the Department of Education isn’t bothering to accept bids from potential vendors, because the state already decided to do EFA business with a current state vendor: ClassWallet, a Florida-based company with ties to the Huckabees.
ClassWallet’s Arkansas lobbyist is Chad Gallagher, a former advisor to Mike Huckabee.
Sidebar: Gallagher also managed Jim Bob Duggar’s career. If you watched the docuseries Shiny Happy People, you know that Gallagher was the puppet master behind the PR campaign to dismiss and diminish Josh Duggar’s sexual assault cases.
The Arkansas Times notes that we don’t know how much the contract for the second year of EFAs will be because the Department is refusing to comply with FOIA requests. Currently, the Arkansas Department of Education’s contract with ClassWallet is valued at $55 million.
Vouchers really are a scam, and Huckabee loyalists have already used them to scam Arkansas taxpayers and put money in their own pockets.