September 29, 2021
By Matt Beienburg

Over the past 18 months, America’s students have endured a whiplash of public school closures, listened as teachers union leaders have shrugged off the severity of their learning losses, and been told that what is most needed is for the their local school systems to simply get their cut of the $200 billion of federal K-12 COVID relief funding pouring out from Washington. In short, too many children have watched as their needs have been relegated to the backseat as they fall further academically and emotionally behind.

But thanks to Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program and similar education savings account programs around the nation—which provide families with student-centric support for tutoring, private school tuition, at-home curriculum, special needs therapies, and more—thousands of America’s most vulnerable children have continued to thrive during this time. Having pioneered the ESA program a decade ago and having worked to expand the same educational freedom to more students in Arizona and across the nation, the Goldwater Institute is pleased to partner with EdChoice in releasing two new ESA resources for lawmakers and families alike:

A Decade of Success: How Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) Have Saved Students and Inspired a National Movement marks the 10-year anniversary of the nation’s first ESA program and explores the achievements, impacts, and opportunities it has created for 10,000 families in the Grand Canyon State and the educational model is has launched in 10 states and counting across America. Featuring personal accounts of ESA parents, a survey of ESA award values’ ability to fully cover private school tuition costs, and an account of the positive financial impacts of the program on state and public school district finances, this report reveals a program that serves students, taxpayers, and America’s education system at large.

Looking ahead to the next decade, the Goldwater-EdChoice teams are also introducing a new tool designed specifically for families and those looking to support them through non-public education: The ESA Opportunity Map: Charting Empowerment Scholarship Account Eligibility for Students in Failing Arizona Public Schools. This guide and the accompanying interactive Arizona ESA Eligibility Mapping Tool will provide prospective ESA families for the first time the chance to navigate the landscape of D- and F-rated public schools in Arizona and the attendance boundaries of those schools, which qualify incoming kindergarteners of every resident family in their area for an ESA. The map—which highlights these eligibility zones with both state- and neighborhood-level detail as well as nearby private options—will ensure that families who would otherwise be tracked into failing public schools are aware of the extraordinary opportunities available to them through Arizona’s ESA program.

In just a single decade, education savings accounts have grown from one small piece of legislation in Arizona to an accelerating nationwide movement serving thousands of children and giving them access to customized educational opportunities that fit their own unique needs and set them up for success. As we look back at these first ten years and ahead to the next ten, the Goldwater Institute and EdChoice are proud to support this movement.

For more information about Arizona’s ESA program, including the interactive map showing ESA eligibility and nearby private school options and costs, visit goldwaterinstitute.org/ESA.

Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy and the Director of the Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy at the Goldwater Institute.

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