Jordan Candler / April 11, 2017

Arizona Won’t Let Students Face the Desert

Universal education savings accounts become reality for 1.1 million students. School choice and federalism at work.

In Arizona, changes are afloat — and very good changes at that. Gov. Doug Ducey last week officially signed off on legislation that make universal education savings accounts a reality for some 1.1 million students. The foundation for it was established in 2011, when the state ushered in the dawn of ESAs. Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Nevada followed suit. As The Wall Street Journal explains, the original impetus in Arizona was to circumvent “a state Supreme Court ruling that struck down vouchers.”

Fortunately, vouchers aren’t the only weapon at school choice advocates’ disposal. The Journal explains further regarding ESAs, “The state deposits 90% of a student’s per-pupil allowance into an account that parents who withdraw their children from public schools can tap for private-school tuition, tutoring, home schooling, curriculum, materials and other education expenses approved by the state.” In the past this provided qualified parents a slew of options, and now access has been vastly expanded. As of last week, all students who aren’t content with their education situation will be allotted ample opportunities for a better fit.

Right now, just 3,300 students are enrolled in ESAs. But under the new legislation, according to the Journal, “Every public-school student would be eligible, though new enrollment each year would be capped at 5,000. Accounts would average about $5,600, which is enough to cover tuition at about half of the private schools in the state.” Arizona’s implementation of universal ESAs follows the blueprint out of Nevada, which pushed through a comprehensive program in 2015. Unfortunately, “that state’s Supreme Court last fall rejected the program’s funding mechanism while upholding its constitutionality,” the Journal notes. But the idea lives on, and Arizona — the first state to give ESAs a try and succeeded — is once again the trailblazer on school reform. And best of all, it doesn’t have to worry, for now at least, about a hostile education secretary taking it to task. Quite the contray, in fact.

To be clear, educational savings accounts aren’t to be conflated with school vouchers. The Associated Press made that mistake when it stated, “Gov. Doug Ducey has signed a major school voucher expansion bill.” As Jason Russell in the Washington Examiner explains, “Education savings accounts give families even more flexibility than school vouchers do. With vouchers, a family simply takes their government-issued voucher and can only use it for private school tuition. With education savings accounts, families get a special education bank account (kind of like an education version of a health savings account). They can use the account for expenses including private school tuition, tutoring, educational therapy and textbooks.” That’s all the more reason to celebrate.

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