One-third of parents allowed to “unbundle” their children’s education using a novel form of vouchers split the money into a variety of education opportunities, while the other two-thirds use their education savings accounts more like a voucher, a study reports.
“The public school system has no ability to handle Sean’s sensory needs,” said Jennifer Doucet, mother of a seventh grader with autism who receives an ESA. “If there are too many kids in a classroom, he gets fidgety and becomes a distraction. His ability is not at the same grade level as the other students, so he was either forced to a level that is way above his ability or way below.… [His new school offered] smaller class sizes, and people understand autism. They know the difference between when he is acting out and he really does not understand something.… Without a savings account, we would not be able to afford the care that Sean needs.”
In 2011, Arizona was the first state to create education savings accounts (ESAs), a form of school choice in which 90 percent of state per-pupil funds go into a bank account parents can use to purchase a variety of education services, such as textbooks, online classes, tuition, and tutoring. In 2012, the state expanded the program to include children zoned to attend D- or F-rated schools, children in military families, and foster children in addition to special-needs students. In 2013, lawmakers expanded the program to incoming kindergarten students. Currently, 220,000 children are eligible for ESAs.
An August report from the Friedman Foundation chronicles how the 316 Arizona ESA families are using their accounts. Thirty-four percent divided the money into various education opportunities such as therapy and curriculum, and 66 percent used the accounts to pay tuition directly to a private school.
The annual state per-pupil cost for the program is $5,300 for non-disabled students and $13,600 for disabled students. Parents can roll over funds from the account each year and even spend remaining funds on college tuition once students graduate high school. In 2011-2012, parents reserved 43 percent of that year’s ESA funds. The accounts may not pay for computers, transportation, or school supplies such as pens and paper.
“The Education Debit Card: What Arizona Parents Purchase With Education Savings Accounts,” Lindsey Burke, Friedman Foundation, August 2013: http://heartland.org/policy-documents/education-debit-card-what-arizona-parents-purchase-education-savings-accounts.
Image by Henry de Saussure Copeland.