JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi lawmakers were giving Weight Watchers $1.5 million for a teacher voucher program that never appeared in any education funding bills or state contracts, and kept the money flowing for years even though relatively few teachers were using it.
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.
Senate Education Chairman Gray Tollison says lawmakers could direct $20 million a year in education funding without disclosing how the money was being spent until 2016, when his committee began listing each earmark in the education appropriations bill.
Mississippi ranks near the bottom of the 50 states in per-pupil spending on public education.