Bragging rights: Arizona fought for education savings accounts first, paved the way
By Kim Martinez
It all started in Arizona. The most comprehensive school choice program in the nation was birthed in the Grand Canyon state in 2011. The “all options on the table” education savings accounts, called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), offered Arizona parents a new unprecedented kind of freedom – the freedom to choose the right path for their child. ESAs were so progressive, so different from the status quo, parents thought there was a catch.
“I couldn’t believe it when I first heard this program exists. I definitely thought it was too good to be true,” says Angie Ramirez, mother of two adopted sons who use ESAs. “I applied and now a year later my sons are settled in a private school I never could have afforded. They are learning more and are happy at school now and that means so much to me!”
Ramirez chooses to use her ESA funds to pay for private school tuition at Most Holy Trinity School in Phoenix. Other ESA parents like Kathy Visser have chosen to customize their child’s education and mix a few options to create an individual plan. Jordan, 11, has several special needs including cerebral palsy and dyslexia.
“For Jordan, we do a mixture of homeschooling, tutors who come to our home and therapists. He also takes classes outside of the home,” says Visser. “Having the freedom and the ESA money to customize his learning environment to fit his specific needs has made all the difference for him physically and mentally.”
In Arizona, ESAs take 90% of the qualifying child’s public school allocation and the funds go into a debit card account for parents to use on the education curriculum they chose. Essentially, ESAs help low-income parents pay for the best education options for their child.
During the last school year, Arizona had more than 1,200 ESA families. That number is expected to double for the coming academic school year, the Arizona Department of Education reports receiving more than 2,600 new ESA applications.
While Arizona’s ESA program continues to grow, other state’s like Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Nevada are offering the same education freedom to their parents.
In Nevada, the legislature recently passed a law not only bringing ESAs to their state but to also put all options on the table for EVERY child in the state, their ESA program is universal.
While Nevada has the biggest and perhaps the best ESA program now, Arizona holds the bragging rights of setting the ball in motion for countless parents to now be able to advocate for their child’s education in Arizona and beyond.