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Profiles in Parent Power: Arizona ESA Program

The state of Arizona has become a model of Parent Power in recent years, due in no small part to innovative reforms such as the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA). First enacted in 2011, ESAs were initially available to students with special needs. Today, approximately 200,000 students, or 1 in 5 public school families, are now eligible to set up an ESA.

Thankfully, a recent decision by the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld the ESA program as constitutional, much to the relief of parents in search of better educational options and much to the chagrin of anti-reform advocates seeking to uphold business as usual.

Using a state funding formula, 90 percent of a student’s persistent public funding quite literally follows the student into a private bank account managed by their parents, who can decide how to use those funds and ensure the best educational outcome for their child.

In addition to students with special needs, children who attend failing schools, come from a military family or were adopted from foster care are ESA eligible.

Now, the question becomes whether or not Arizona parents managing ESAs are satisfied with how their newfound freedom has affected the quality of their child’s education, and their ability to determine the educational experience that works best for their family.

According to an October 2013 study from the Friedman Foundation entitled, “Schooling Satisfaction: Arizona Parents’ Opinions on Using Education Savings Accounts,” the answer is a resounding yes.

Friedman, in conjunction with the AZ based Goldwater Institute sampled 179 parents, part of 37 percent of all students benefitting from ESAs. Of those parents, the entire sample expressed a level of satisfaction with the program, with not a single parent expressing dissatisfaction.

It’s important to note that respondents were self-selected, but still constitute a large portion of ESA beneficiaries with a diverse set of backgrounds.

The level of satisfaction comes as no surprise to those who recognize the benefits of parent empowerment, and the level of eagerness at which parents embrace their right to place their child in an environment that will foster success.

As programs like the Arizona ESA expand across the nation, so will the already growing consensus surrounding the need to give parents more access to education.