For decades now, spending on public education has been increasing significantly, while academic achievement has remained stagnant. What if, instead of pouring money into failing schools, we give the money to parents and allow them to spend it any way they see fit on their children’s education?
Well, in states like Arizona, education savings accounts (ESAs), which do just that, have become a reality and could be the future of school choice.
Heritage’s Lindsey Burke explains what it means for some residents of Arizona:
In April 2011, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law SB 1553, creating Arizona Empowerment Accounts. The first of their kind, Empowerment Accounts allow parents—in this case, parents of special-needs children—to remove their children from the public-school system and receive the money the state would have spent on them in an education savings account.
This opens the door for many more educational opportunities for special needs children who deserve better than the schools they are forced to go through because of the district they happen to live in.
This is just the starting point for the true potential of ESAs. They could also be used to attend online schools, which offer a learning alternative to brick-and-mortar schools. Additionally, if the money is not used, parents can roll it over from year to year and can even save it to invest in a 529 college savings account for their children.
Other states, such as Florida and Utah, have also considered offering parents ESAs.
The Wall Street Journal called 2011 “The Year of School Choice,” because 13 states have enacted or expanded school choice options for families. This should send shockwaves to the Obama Administration, which is hoping for a reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. But in order to free more states to explore innovative education options like ESAs, federal policymakers should allow states to completely opt out of No Child Left Behind and use funding in a manner that would best meet the needs of local children.
States like Arizona are leading the way with new ideas like ESAs, and the future of school choice options seems brighter than ever.
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