Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program has saved taxpayers more than $1 billion and as much as $3.2 billion, according to a national study on school-choice programs.
EdChoice, a nonprofit that advocates for parental choice in where they send their kids to be students, estimated in its new study that educational choice programs have generated between $12.4 billion and $27.7 billion in taxpayer savings since 2011. That averages to $7,500 for each student who participated in such a program.
Arizona is a pioneer of school-choice programs. It is home to the nation’s first educational savings account, a program allowing parents to redirect a portion of funding meant for a public school district and use it to send their child to a school of their preference. Originally passed in 2011, Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account initially was directed toward students with special needs but was expanded to make nearly a quarter of the state’s K-12 students eligible.
“Arizona has one of the richest K-12 choice ecosystems in the country,” said Marty Lueken, director of the Fiscal Research and Education Center at EdChoice. “Funding for the state’s tax-credit scholarship programs represent just one-third the funds which districts would receive to educate the same students. These large funding gaps are indicative of benefits accruing to taxpayers.
“Arizona’s school choice programs have provided taxpayers with at least $1.2 billion in cumulative net fiscal benefits, likely more. These fiscal benefits are bonus, however. Bottom line is that they have helped countless families and children make their lives better by enabling them to find and access the best educational setting that works for them.”
Critics of Arizona’s ESA program and others like it say they siphon taxpayer funds from public school systems by not only removing parental contributions to the districts but state and federal disbursements that are often calculated by total enrollment.
Nationally, EdChoice estimates similar programs have saved taxpayers up to $7,500 for each student that participated. The report estimates school choice programs enroll 2% of the nation’s K-12 students but receive only 1% of public K-12 funding.