A new report from the Goldwater Institute details the many benefits of Arizona’s education savings account (ESA) program, known as Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. Across the board, Arizona students, families, and taxpayers are all better off because of the Empowerment program.
Enacted in 2011, Empowerment Scholarship Accounts was the nation’s first ESA program. More than 6,400 Arizona students in 134 participating private schools are currently enrolled in the program. Overall, 22 percent of Arizona students are eligible for the program, including children with certain disabilities, children in foster care, children living on Indian reservations, and the children of active duty military personnel. More than 800 children of active duty military or those members of the armed forces killed in the line of duty participated in the program in Fiscal Year 2019. About 3,700 program participants are students with some sort of special need.
The report, The Public School Benefits of Education Savings Accounts: The Impact of ESAs in Arizona, notes how Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, by granting participating families about $6,148 per child, saves taxpayers thousands of dollars per pupil. On the other hand, it costs $10,120 to fund each child in the state’s traditional public schools.
Further, Goldwater finds Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are increasing per-pupil public school spending by more than $600 per each student participating in the program. In Fiscal Year 2020, $3 million in savings from this ESA will be used to reconstitute Arizona’s Department of Education IT infrastructure.
“Arizona’s ESA program … has offered thousands of students an additional educational pathway best suited to their needs,” the report concludes. “The nation’s most established ESA program has actually benefitted public schools by redistributing funds back to remaining public school students, directing program savings to public school IT infrastructure, and helping to serve one of the most high-need, high-cost student populations in the state—all while decreasing taxpayer costs and safeguarding public funds.”
Copious other empirical research on ESAs and other school choice initiatives, including in Arizona, finds these programs offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances. Moreover, these programs improve access to schools that deliver quality education inexpensively. Additionally, ESAs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.
Research also shows students at private schools are less likely than their public school peers to experience problems such as alcohol abuse, bullying, drug use, fighting, gang activity, racial tension, theft, vandalism, and weapon-based threats. There is also a strong causal link suggesting private school choice programs improve the mental health of participating students.
Based on the academic, fiscal, and societal benefits of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts and other ESA programs, Arizona legislators should offer school choice initiatives to as many children as possible. The goal of public education in Arizona today and in the years to come should be to allow all parents to choose which schools their children attend, require every school to compete for every student who walks through its doors, and make sure every child has the opportunity to attend a quality school.
The following documents provide more information about education savings accounts and education choice.
Protecting Students with Child Safety Accounts
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Vicki Alger, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and research fellow at the Independent Institute, and Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson detail the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and assault taking place in America’s public schools and the difficulties for parents in having their child moved from a school that is unsafe for them. Alger and Benson propose a Child Safety Account program, which would allow parents to immediately have their child moved to a safe school – private, parochial, or public – as soon as parents feel the public school their child is currently attending is too dangerous to their child’s physical or emotional health..