Weight Watchers for school teachers?
In the category of “you can’t make this stuff up” comes another doozy from state lawmakers.
Mississippi legislators for years gave Weight Watchers money for a teacher voucher program that never appeared in any education funding bills or state contracts, according to story in the Clarion Ledger.
Weight Watchers got $1.5 million over several years even though relatively few teachers used the program.
The Clarion Ledger uncovered the payments while investigating how state legislators funnel education funding to favored vendors. It reported that Weight Watchers collected about $300,000 per year between 2011 and 2016 while working with lobbyist Beth Clay.
Up until 2016, lawmakers were able to direct $20 million a year in education funding without disclosing how the money was being spent. The Senate Education Committee now lists each earmark in appropriations bills.
While keeping teachers healthy is a worthy goal, this program was obviously not the best way to spend $1.5 million in public funds, especially since most teachers didn’t take advantage of it.
Mississippi is desperate for education funds. It ranks near the bottom of per-pupil spending, with only Utah, Oklahoma, Idaho and Arizona spending less per student.
If that money had been spent directly on students, it would have increased per-pupil spending by less than $1 annually so it’s unlikely that it would have made any direct impact. But we’re guessing there would have been other ways to spend the Weight Watchers money that would have helped students. Maybe it could have been used to hire teacher assistants in some struggling districts. Or maybe it could have been used to buy books or supplies. Or maybe help start and fund music programs.
We don’t know the best way the money could have been used, but we are certain the way it was used was not best. Mississippi expects more from lawmakers.