NEWS: Special Needs Students Can Apply for ESAs in Arizona Beginning July 1

From the Goldwater Institute:

Mark your calendars: beginning July 1, Arizona students with special needs and their families can begin applying for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA’s), a new program for this traditionally underserved population. The state will deposit 90 percent of the student’s funds into an account parents can use for a variety of educational expenditures, including textbooks, therapy services, tutoring, and even tuition for alternative or online schools.

Since 1999, a similar Florida program has given parents the freedom to select the best school for their child. Over 22,000 students with special needs participate in the McKay program, and to great effect. In 2009, 45 percent of McKay fourth-graders showed at least a partial mastery in reading, compared to 34 percent of disabled students nationally. In Arizona, only 30 percent of special needs students show a partial mastery of reading in fourth grade. And studies have found parents of McKay scholarship students are more satisfied with their children’s schools than are parents of disabled students in traditional public school programs.

A recent study from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute puts the special education population in perspective: nationally, special needs children account for 13.1 percent of all students, while 21 percent of education spending is directed to special ed services. The Fordham authors write, “America needs to approach special education with greater creativity and flexibility in the future,” and ESA’s do just that. The program will save tax dollars while providing new choices and opportunities to some of our most vulnerable students.