From barely 100 students to nearly 7,000, Arizona’s education savings account system has grown in the past eight years.
The education savings program, formally Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account, provides families with a way to help children with special educational needs achieve their potential. Those who qualify can open an account into which the state will place a percentage of the money that would have been spent on the student’s education in a public school environment. That money can then be used to provide for tutoring, therapy programs, materials and other education-adjacent materials.
“Education savings accounts allow parents to customize a child’s education – these accounts offer families a way to design a learning experience for a student that meets a child’s unique needs," Jonathan Butcher, a senior fellow at the Goldwater Institute, said. "For some, this may be a new school, while for others – students with special needs, in particular – this experience may include several products and services at the same time, such as education therapy, personal tutors and online classes. And parents can even save money from year to year to prepare for future expenses.”
For a family to be eligible for the program, their student must fall into a specific category. They must be children of service members, special needs students, kids in foster care, students from low-performing public schools, and students from Native American reservations.
“Legislative analysts have found that children with special needs (a group that makes up more than half of the education savings account population in Arizona) save the state money," Butcher said. "Each student saves the state approximately $1,400.”
The state pays just over $10,000 per student for a “standard” education. Students who require additional attention require additional funding, potentially an additional $20,000.
According to the Arizona Department of Education, “ESA families received an average of $19,989 in FY 2019. (Students with major disabilities received $26,707 on average, while ESA grade-schoolers with mild disabilities received $6,173 on average.)”
Butcher added the Goldwater Institute backs up these spending numbers, saying his organization's research found “ESAs give ... families an average of roughly $6,100 per child each year (for non-special needs, non-kindergarten students) to help meet their educational needs. In comparison, taxpayers spend more than $10,100 per public school pupil in Arizona, meaning that on average, ESAs are generating thousands of dollars of taxpayer savings for every child enrolled.”