Participating parents also saved one-third of their children’s K-12 schooling funds, likely in anticipation of future education expenses.
Arizona’s ESA program, called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, served 153 enrollees following its creation in 2011, growing to more than 300 students in the 2012-13 school year. Data on 316 ESA recipients were provided by the Arizona Department of Education to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and author Lindsey Burke, who found nearly 66 percent used ESA dollars for one service (private schooling) whereas some 34 percent utilized multiple education options. Of the nearly $2.9 million in ESA funds distributed from the 2011-12 school year to the first quarter of the 2012-13 school year, more than $1 million went unspent by parents. Those funds can be deposited into college savings plans.
Parents receive ESA funds via restricted-use debit cards loaded with approximately 90 percent of what the state reserved for their children in the public school system. ESA parents must submit to the Arizona Department of Revenue receipts for their preceding quarter expenditures to obtain funds for the coming quarter. Burke found that outside of private school tuition, families used ESA funds for online learning courses, curricula, private tutoring, and education therapies, all approved by the Arizona Department of Education.
“Children’s learning opportunities shouldn’t be restricted to just a traditional classroom, particularly if students’ needs could be served better outside those walls,” Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation, said. “And when parents are empowered to meet their children’s needs, they do so in a more financially meticulous way than well-intentioned bureaucrats.”
Data in “The Education Debit Card: What Arizona Parents Purchase with Education Savings Accounts” also reveal to what extent parents took advantage of the ESA program’s unique roll-over option. In the 2011-12 school year, 43 percent of distributed ESA funds were saved by families; in the first quarter of the 2012-13 school year, that number was around 26 percent. Burke said that shows education savings accounts encourage parents and schools to be cost-conscious.
“Once parents have the freedom to shop around based on their own cost-benefit analysis, they make decisions that take into account both financial considerations and educational quality,” said Burke, who also serves as the Will Skillman Fellow in Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. “The traditional public school system does not allow for the type of customization from which so many children would benefit.”
In the 2013-14 school year, ESA eligibility expanded to include students from low-income families attending public schools graded D and F under the state’s accountability system, those from active military families, and foster children—more than 220,000 students. This past legislative session, Arizona state lawmakers increased eligibility again by allowing incoming kindergartners to qualify for the ESA program. Parent testimonials in “The Education Debit Card” report indicate ESA participants are satisfied with the program.
“We gear (our child’s) education around his needs and abilities; it is all personalized to what he can do, how he learns, what his interests are,” one ESA parent said. “Everything we do is personalized to his needs and learning style. The ESA has made (that) financially possible.”
“The Education Debit Card: What Arizona Parents Purchase with Education Savings Accounts” is available at edchoice.org/EdDebitCard.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
According to a news release from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, "parents enrolled in Arizona’s one-of-a-kind education savings accounts (ESA) program used their children’s portion of state funds to purchase a variety of educational services outside public schools, according to a new report that is the first to analyze ESA data from the Arizona Department of Education."