NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Education Savings Accounts: A Promising Way Forward on School Choice

October 14, 2011

Across the country, states are enacting and expanding school choice options for families.  This year alone, 12 states and the District of Columbia have implemented new school choice options for children or expanded existing options.  The state of Arizona, however, seems to have created a system that is truly innovative: Education Savings Accounts (ESA), says Lindsey Burke, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

Signed into law in April of 2011, the ESAs will allow parents to have state money placed in a private savings account that would otherwise have been spent on their child's education.  Agreeing to a variety of conditions (such as, their child cannot be enrolled in a public school or public charter school), these parents are then allowed to use the money in their ESA for a variety of educational purposes, including private school tuition, textbooks and one-on-one tutoring.  Though the program is currently available only to special-education students, the benefits of a more widespread system are clear.

  • First, the program by definition increases school choice, as it opens up to parents an entire new sector of schooling options that might not have been previously available due to financial restrictions.
  • Second, programs of this kind provide savings to taxpayers.
  • Third, the increased competitive atmosphere has been shown to have positive impacts on public schools.
  • Fourth and finally, the customizability of ESAs allows for a more comprehensive learning program, determined by parents.

By providing these benefits, Education Savings Accounts offer distinct advantages over the status quo and even have a leg up on other modern reforms such as voucher systems.  This groundbreaking policy affirms that the federal government should reduce controls on the states' education programs, allowing experimentation to foster success.

Source: Lindsey Burke, "Education Savings Accounts: A Promising Way Forward on School Choice," Heritage Foundation, October 4, 2011.

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