('76 Contributor) If there is anything Americans love, it is options. Lots of them. Americans enjoy a variety of choices in retail, entertainment, automotive… you name it. Private industry tends to reveal what the American public finds most conducive toward happiness. What is good is invested in, what is bad, either ceases to exist, or must undergo some serious reforms to be competitive once more.
It is all part of the beauty of competition—we choose what to invest our time, effort, and money into that would best allot the means toward happiness. It is ironic, therefore, that while Americans are able to freely choose what commercial luxuries to invest in, we have less freedom of investment in our most precious commodity: our children, and our children’s future.
Expanding choice in education means expanding opportunity for children and creating a more responsive education system. In a system where parents have choice, schools will be more attuned to making sure they serve the needs of students. That kind of dynamic system will help improve all schools.
Arizona in particular has led the way in creating that type of dynamic system. The state's groundbreaking Education Savings Account program allows families to opt for 90 percent of the state funds that would have gone to the child’s assigned public school to instead be deposited directly into an ESA.
That money opens the door for parents to shop in a freer market of schooling options, including and not limited to: a private school tuition, on-line education, private tutoring, and special education services. Unused funds can even be rolled over year-to-year, and can even be rolled into a 529 college savings account. It is an education option that would make Milton Freedman proud, and one he might even consider a refinement of his original idea of school vouchers.
Arizona is the only state that has utilized this new system, thus far. The Empowerment Scholarship Account program, as it is called in Arizona, has tripled in its active accounts since it began in 2011. The program was originally instated for special education students; however, the program expanded to include low-income students who attend failing schools, children of active-duty military families, and children in the Arizona foster care system. These changes will be in place by the start of the next school year.
Alas, this new program of freedom has not gone without a fight. Parents in Arizona are already fighting against the Arizona School Boards Association to secure this parental right. The ASBA, along with the Arizona Education Association and Arizona Association of Business Officials, filed a claim in 2011 that the ESA program was unconstitutional in the State of Arizona per Arizona Supreme Court decision Cain v. Horne.
Cain struck down two publically funded voucher programs as unconstitutional. Yet, counsel of the defense from the Institute for Justice argue that concessions made during oral argument in Cain concede certain publically funded programs to be constitutionally recognized for school choice. Empowerment Accounts, unlike previous voucher programs, do not require that the parents only select private educational programs for their children. The program therefore aids individuals, and not institutions.
Although the voucher programs originally instated in Arizona prior to Cain did yield advancements in educational freedom, the Education Savings Accounts have opened new doors of opportunity: more freedom, more choices, and parental empowerment. And as states consider expanding or implementing school choice options, ESAs should be at the top of their list.
Michelle Reese, “Arizona’s Education Savings Account Programs Growing,” East Valley Tribune, January 1, 2013, http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/local/education/article_e3a65f48-4df1-11e2-b6db-001a4bcf887a.html (accessed January 25, 2013).