Study: How to Create ‘Next-Gen Vouchers’

Published August 26, 2013

Parents will have ultimate control over their child’s education dollars when states move existing school choice programs into education savings accounts, says a new report.

“This is, I believe, the future of how we finance K-12 education, and I am hopeful that we will see more states move in this direction,” said Lindsey Burke, an education fellow at the Heritage Foundation and coauthor of the report.

Arizona pioneered education savings accounts (ESAs) in 2011, which involve depositing up to 90 percent of a child’s state per-pupil funding into an account with a debit card parents can use to purchase a wide array of education materials: books, tutoring, online and in-person classes, and more. Students with special needs receive larger ESA awards.

“The accounts allow a parent to direct their child’s educational experience in a totally customized manner. That’s a very liberating concept in K-12 education,” Burke said.

Burke and Jonathan Butcher wrote “Expanding Education Choices: From Vouchers and Tax Credits to Savings Accounts” to explain how states can switch existing vouchers and scholarship tax credits into ESAs.

Family Planning
The report profiles the Locke and Visser families. Jordan Visser has cerebral palsy, and Kasey Locke is autistic. Both families use their children’s ESAs to provide specialized education opportunities not available through the state’s traditional K-12 system.

Kathy Visser uses Jordan’s ESA to pay for a special-needs private school, physical therapist, and therapeutic horseback riding classes. She says the latter have greatly improved Jordan’s balance. The Lockes use Kasey’s ESA for a private school specializing in a behavioral technique that helps her thrive, which her traditional school couldn’t incorporate.

“Parents are still unable to make private school an efficient choice with a voucher,” said Butcher, education director at the Goldwater Institute. “ESAs incentivize private schools to set their tuition at what is market value for some families. In this way, families don’t spend the whole of their ESA on tuition, [and] can go on to meet the unique needs of the child with other situations.”

Approximately 200,000 Arizona children are eligible for ESAs. To join, children must have special needs, reside in military families, be foster children, or be zoned into a D- or F-rated public school.

Arizona parents sign a contract promising to provide their child education in reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies, and science. Families also promise not to enroll their child in a public school full-time. ESAs for non-special-needs children are worth up to $6,000, approximately two-thirds what taxpayers pay for public-school students.

“State legislators often feel they must work at the state level to create a blanket law … to reform education for everyone,” Butcher says. “We need to help individual kids, not prop up a system. ESAs do just that.”


Learn More
Expanding Education Choices: From Vouchers and Tax Credits to Savings Accounts,” Lindsey Burke and Jonathan Butcher, Heritage Foundation and Goldwater Institute, July 2013:

Image by Global Partnership for Education.