NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Experimenting with ESAs in Florida and Arizona

September 11, 2014

Despite increased spending on public education, American students perform no better than did their counterparts in the 1970s. Just 26 percent of high school seniors rank as proficient in math, and just 38 do so in reading. Compared to students in other countries, American schoolchildren are far from outstanding, with middling test scores. 

This lack of academic success has corresponded with growing centralization of education and a distancing of parents from educational decisions. The idea behind school choice is to provide children and parents with greater control and educational options, creating better matches between students and educational providers and services. As such, two states are currently experimenting with a relatively new school choice tool: Education Savings Accounts.

Brittany Corona, research assistant at the Heritage Foundation, explains how Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) work. The first iteration of the accounts came in 2011, when Arizona gave eligible parents a deposit equivalent to 90 percent of the funds that the state would have spent on the child. The Arizona program works as follows:

  • The typical child receives $3,000 per year in his ESA. The amount is higher for children with special needs, ranging from $10,400 to $26,000.
  • The funds are loaded onto a debit card (use of which is restricted), which parents can use for a variety of services.
  • Some parents use the funds to pay for private school tuition, while others use them for tutoring, textbooks, curriculum or online classes. Some use the cards to pay for individual courses for their children or for educational therapies.
  • Eligibility for ESAs has been expanded in Arizona and now includes children with special needs, those enrolled in bad schools, children of active-duty military or of fallen soldiers and children in foster care.

Parents have used these funds to customize education for their children, many of whom have seen their children blossom after years of struggling in the one-size-fits-all public education system.

Following Arizona's lead, the state of Florida enacted ESAs in June 2014. Already, the state has seen 3,000 applications for the program and has given scholarship funds to 641 students.

Source: Brittany Corona, "These Lucky Parents Get To Control Their Kids' State Education Money," Federalist, September 9, 2014. 

 

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