Kimber Cartwright was optimistic when her son’s teacher said he would be moved to a different classroom. Doctors had diagnosed Kimber’s son, David, with multiple special needs, including cerebral palsy, sensory integration dysfunction, and microcephaly (a neurological condition), so Kimber knew David could benefit from more individual attention. Weeks went by and still David was not moved, which frustrated Kimber. “My son was being completely left behind with no attention whatsoever,” Kimber says.
When education savings accounts became a reality in Arizona in 2011, Kimber jumped at the opportunity for David. “So far, it’s been the best experience,” she says. “We’ve been able to choose what school he goes to, what therapies he uses, and even add extra curriculum to the private school that he’s in.”
Arizona’s education savings accounts are the most innovative way for parents to find a great education for their child. The Arizona Department of Education deposits 90 percent of an eligible child’s funding from the state funding formula into a parent’s private bank account. Families then use a debit card or an online payment service such as PayPal to pay for such expenses as textbooks, private school tuition, online classes, and tutors. Each account results in a cost-savings to the taxpayer, demonstrating that a high-quality education can be provided for less than what taxpayers pay for public schools.
On May 8, 2013, the Goldwater Institute conducted a focus group for savings-account families. Key findings include:
• 94 percent of participants said they were “very satisfied” with education savings accounts, while 6 percent were “somewhat satisfied”;
• Parents report that the public school and district officials they encounter say they have a low level of knowledge about education savings accounts; and,
• Parents say it is a significant challenge to renew their child’s special needs diagnosis at a public school, which is required to remain eligible for a savings account.
Arizona lawmakers should use the findings from this focus group to streamline the renewal process for special needs classifications and expand the eligibility criteria so more children can benefit from an account. In addition, policymakers should conduct more surveys of participating parents or outsource such a project in order to solicit more feedback, improve the program, and better serve Arizona children.
Read the full report here.