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  • The New Frontier in School Choice: Education Savings Accounts

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    Parents are using Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) to tailor their child’s education to meet that child’s individual learning needs and are highly satisfied with the flexibility the accounts provide, according to two reports released by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

    In 2011, new ground was broken in the fight for educational opportunity when Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law Arizona’s revolutionary ESA program, the first state law of its kind. Through the ESAs, parents are empowered with the ability to customize their child’s education.

    The concept behind ESAs is simple: 90 percent of the funds that would otherwise be spent on their child at a public school are deposited into a savings account for parents to use on a variety of approved educational services and products, including private school tuition, education therapy, textbooks, private tutoring, or even college tuition.

    Originally, only students with special needs were eligible for the accounts. However, last year Governor Brewer signed into law an expansion of the program to include children in active duty military families, foster children, and children in poor-performing schools. What is more, parents can “roll over” unused ESA funds from year to year.

    In the Friedman Foundation report, The Education Debit Card, Heritage education policy fellow Lindsey Burke finds that of the families utilizing education savings accounts, “34 percent chose to use their ESA funds for multiple education options.” When given the ability to customize their child’s education, more than one-third of families utilized the opportunity to its fullest, tailoring their child’s education to that child’s individual needs.

    Figure5

    Lindsey M. Burke, “The Education Debit Card: What Arizona Parents Purchase with Education Savings Accounts,” The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, August 2013

    A recent Friedman study by Jonathan Butcher and Jason Bedrick reinforces this point:

    The majority of respondents reported being “very satisfied” with the accounts (71 percent); nearly 20 percent of those surveyed reported being “satisfied,” and 10 percent said they were “somewhat satisfied.” No parent responded as neutral or reported any dissatisfaction with the accounts.

    Parents reported that they were grateful for “the educational flexibility the ESA afforded them and the resulting improvement in their children’s lives and opportunities.”

    Education Savings Accounts represent the future of school choice. With ESAs, those who are closest to the children and know them best—their parents—are empowered with educational decision-making authority. With this authority, parents are investing in more than their child’s education: They are investing in their child’s future.

    To read the stories of Arizona families using ESAs, see here.

    To read the full reports, see: The Education Debit Card: What Arizona Parents Purchase with Education Savings Accounts and Schooling Satisfaction: Arizona Parents’ Opinions on Using Education Savings Accounts.

    Julianne Bozzo is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.

    Posted in Education, Front Page [slideshow_deploy]

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