This school year, nearly 7,000 students in a handful of states will benefit from their access to Education Savings Accounts.
This school choice program – now adopted in five states – functions similarly to healthcare flexible spending accounts except instead of depositing money into the account from your paycheck, the state government deposits a child’s share of school funding into an account that parents can use to pay for educations options based upon their child’s needs.
With an ESA, eligible students must leave the public school they are assigned to and in exchange, they receive a portion of the state’s funds for their child’s education to pay for alternative education options such as tutoring, online learning, private school, textbooks, education therapies, and so on. Unused K-12 funds can typically be rolled over year-to-year and can eventually help pay for college.
ESAs have grown in popularity and use since the idea was first proposed in 2005. In 2016 alone, legislation was introduced in a dozen states. 75 percent of parents support state legislation to create ESAs and 71 percent say they would be interested in exploring the program for their child.
As more states consider ESAs, here’s a quick summary of the states that currently have ESAs and the state think tanks that have helped educate the public on the benefits of ESAs:
In 2011, Arizona became the first state to sign an ESA program into law. Arizona’s Goldwater Institute first proposed the idea in 2005. There are over 4,400 students enrolled this year. Students with special needs or from failing schools are eligible, as are adopted children, military children, or children on tribal lands. Arizona parents using ESAs report a satisfaction rate of 94 percent!
In 2014, Florida became the second state to pass an ESA program. The program, managed by Step Up for Students and the AAA Scholarship Foundation, was championed in the media by the James Madison Institute and is open to special needs students across the state. Currently, 4,000 students – including kids like Malachi – are thriving because of this school choice option.
One of three states to pass ESAs in 2015, Mississippi’s program is open to students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Empower Mississippi helped educate the public about the idea, and their work has paid off. Students like Lanna and 425 others (at capacity for funded spots this year) are now benefiting from their efforts. The program is having a big impact on families who are fortunate enough to use it.
The Beacon Center of Tennessee was instrumental in helping educate the public and lawmakers in the Volunteer State, which become the fourth state in the nation to have an ESA program. Like Florida and Mississippi, Tennessee’s program is only open to students with identified special needs. No students are enrolled yet, but they are taking applications for 2017.
In 2015, Nevada became the first state in the country to pass an ESA program open to any student enrolled in a Nevada public school. The Nevada Policy Research Institute played a key role educating lawmakers and the public of the value and promise of ESAs, and to date 6,000 students have applied to take advantage of the program.