The New Kid on the School Choice Block

             
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It’s National School Choice week, and chances are you’ve heard of vouchers, charters, and tax credits – all three well-known forms of school choice. But have you heard about the latest – and probably the most creative – form of school choice? First enacted in 2011 in the state of Arizona, this new kid on the school choice block is generally known as an ESA, or Education Savings Account.

Here are five things you should know about this innovative approach to education:

  1. They Save Money

Education Savings Accounts allow parents to take most of the funds the state would use to educate their child and utilize them outside of the public system. In Arizona, each ESA student receives 90% of the total state education funding. (As an aside,U.S. Census Bureau state education spending numbers suggest that a similar program in Minnesota could result in a roughly $12,000 scholarship per child.) Since only 90% of the state spending per student is given to an ESA recipient, the state saves 10% per child.

  1. They Put Parents in Control

In order for a student to receive an ESA, parents must promise to take their child out of the public school system for the year and shoulder all responsibility for the child’s education. Responsibilities can include management of funds, best practices research, and program coordination. Such responsibilities may seem overwhelming, but many parents are already quite adept at performing such tasks for their children in daily life.

  1. They Encourage Innovation and Individualized Education

Unlike a voucher, which can only be used for private school tuition, an ESA can be diversified and used for all sorts of qualifying education opportunities. Because parents know their child better than anyone, they are able to use this diversity and choose a more individualized and diverse plan than their child would receive in a traditional classroom. Thus, parents could use their entire ESA for a private tutor, or split it up, using some portions for online classes, some for curriculum, and even some for educational therapy.

recent study found that private school tuition, therapy, tutoring, and curriculum are the most popular uses for those using Arizona ESAs:

  1. They Make College More Affordable

One of the most delightful aspects of an ESA is the fact that it doesn’t operate on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. Every year, unused money can be rolled over into a college savings account for the student. As the cost of college rises, such funds will help many parents give their child the tuition aid which they are unable to provide from their own pocketbook.

Such an option also increases the incentive to use K-12 funds wisely and frugally, and when the education market is flooded with parents trying to find the best bang for their ESA buck, education providers will naturally strive to keep their products affordable and effective.

  1. They Are Overwhelmingly Popular

Does an ESA sound like a good deal to you? If so, you’re not alone. A 2013 survey found that 50% to 60% of respondents in 10 states favored an ESA program. Given the fact that actual ESA users expressed a 90% satisfaction rate with the program, there’s a strong likelihood that nationwide favorability would soar if more parents and students were granted access to such an opportunity.

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