School Choice Scores Another Big Win in Arizona

Rachel Sheffield /

Arizona families won big last week when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the state’s school choice program, the Arizona Private School Tuition Tax Credit program. This week, Arizona students and families have another reason to celebrate. Arizona just created education savings accounts (ESAs) for special-needs students, providing families with more options when it comes to educating their children.

This groundbreaking reform, signed into law on Tuesday by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R), represents a bounding leap forward. Under the plan, families with special-needs children can opt to receive 90 percent of state per-pupil expenditures in their education savings account, which they can use on a variety of education options. ESAs may be one of the best paths forward on school choice: Not only do they allow state education funding to follow the child—instead of going automatically to the neighborhood public school—but they permit the funding to be used for a wide range of educational options.

According to education researcher Matthew Ladner:

“A system of choice based upon ESAs gives the maximum possible level of control to parents…Parents can choose [from] a large array of education programs, including private schools, college courses, tutors, and online programs.”

Ladner notes that Arizona’s ESAs will provide school choice to approximately 17,000 special-needs students immediately.

But students are not the only beneficiaries. Because the amount of funding provided to the families is 10 percent less than the amount that would typically be spent on a public school education, the state and its taxpayers save money.

Arizona isn’t the only state to see the wisdom of this approach. Florida, widely known for its innovative and successful school reforms, is proposing a similar plan to implement ESAs. Governor Rick Scott (R) has introduced a proposal that would provide families with as much as 85 percent of the cost of a public education, to be used for many educational choices, such as private school, online learning, or tutoring, as well as college savings.

Education reforms that empower parents are the best way to ensure that children’s individual educational needs are best met. Giving parents the ability, through ESAs, to make these critical decisions is a major step forward in allowing families to build strong academic foundations and, subsequently, promising futures for their children.