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Research & Commentary: New Report Details Benefits of Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program

August 16, 2019

ESA Program Saves Taxpayer Dollars, Increases Public-School Spending By $600 Per Participating Child

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.

The Public School Benefits of Education Savings Accounts: The Impact of ESAs in Arizona
https://goldwaterinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Public-School-Benefits-of-ESAs_web.pdf
This report from the Goldwater Institute illustrates how the state’s education savings account (ESA) program, Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, are good news for Arizona students and their families, Arizona taxpayers, and Arizona public schools. The report finds ESAs provide a customized education to high-need students, giving them more opportunity to succeed, save taxpayers thousands of dollars per enrolled child, and financially benefit K-12 public schools.

Families’ Experiences on the New Frontier of Educational Choice: Findings from a Survey of K–12 Parents in Arizona
https://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/2019-4-Arizona-Parent-Survey-by-Andrew-Catt-and-Albert-Chang.pdf
Arizona has one of the most robust, diverse school choice environments in the nation, featuring charter schools, a tax-credit scholarship (TCS) program and education savings accounts (ESAs). This EdChoice report surveys approximately 3,500 parents across all educational sectors to learn more about their school climate, satisfaction, levels of parental involvement, schooling preferences, and trusted sources for educational decisions.

Exploring Arizona’s Private Education Sector
https://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Exploring-Arizonas-Private-Education-Sector-by-Andrew-D-Catt.pdf
This EdChoice report surveys Arizona private school leaders about the state’s educational choice programs, especially its Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, as well as their schools’ enrollment capacity, tuition rates, student demographics, and more. This report brings together those results along with U.S. Department of Education data to paint a detailed picture of Arizona’s private education sector.

The Education Debit Card II: What Arizona Parents Purchase with Education Savings Accounts
http://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2016-2-The-Education-Debit-Card-II-WEB-1.pdf
This EdChoice follow-up study examines more data from Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program. The program allows families to spend their education dollars on a variety of options, including private tutoring, learning therapies, and more. The report reveals ESA families’ expenditures now and how spending trends have changed since their last report.

The 123s of School Choice
https://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/123s-of-School-Choice.pdf
This report from EdChoice is an in-depth review of the available research on private school choice programs in America. Areas of study include: private school choice program participant test scores, program participant attainment, parent satisfaction, public school students’ test scores, civic values and practices, racial/ethnic integration and fiscal effects.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
http://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/A-Win-Win-Solution-The-Empirical-Evidence-on-School-Choice.pdf
This paper by EdChoice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

Protecting Students with Child Safety Accounts
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/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.

2018 Schooling in America Survey: Public Opinion on K–12 Education, Parent and Teacher Experiences, Accountability, and School Choice
https://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/2018-12-Schooling-In-America-by-Paul-DiPerna-and-Michael-Shaw.pdf
This annual survey from EdChoice, conducted in partnership with Braun Research, Inc., measures public opinion and awareness on a range of K–12 education topics, including parents’ schooling preferences, educational choice policies, and the federal government’s role in education. The survey also records response levels, differences, and intensities for citizens located across the country and in a variety of demographic groups.

The Public Benefit of Private Schooling: Test Scores Rise When There Is More of It
https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa830.pdf
This Policy Analysis from the Cato Institute examines the effect increased access to private schooling has had on international student test scores in 52 countries. The Cato researchers found that a 1 percentage point increase in the share of private school enrollment would lead to moderate increases in students’ math, reading, and science achievement.

Competition: For the Children
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/competition-for-the-children
This study from the Texas Public Policy Foundation claims universal school choice results in higher test scores for students remaining in traditional public schools and improved high school graduation rates.

 

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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