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Education Savings Accounts Expand Opportunities For Families

October 23, 2014

Contact: Michael Kelley, (602) 633-8965

A revolutionary school choice program in Arizona known as “education savings accounts” is expanding educational options in unprecedented ways for families whose children’s needs have not been met by traditional public schools. Meanwhile, legislators in Florida, Utah, and Iowa have considered enacting the program in their states.

In a new report released Tuesday, Goldwater Institute Education Director Jonathan Butcher charts the origin and successes of Arizona’s first-of-its-kind education savings account program, and outlines a roadmap for any state looking to create a program of its own.

Conceived of by the Goldwater Institute in 2005 and first approved by the Arizona Legislature in 2011 for special-needs children, education savings accounts allow families to receive 90 percent of the funds the state would have spent on a child in a public school. Those funds may be used for private school tuition, homeschooling, virtual schooling, school materials, or other educational expenses.

More than 150 Arizona families of special-needs children took advantage of the program in its first year. This school year, 400 children are using an education savings account. Beginning in 2013, the program will be expanded to children in failing schools, children of active-duty military families, and children adopted out of the foster system. This expansion will make over 200,000 Arizona children—or 1 in 5—eligible for the program.

Today’s report features stories of children whose lives have been positively changed by education savings accounts. Nathan has autism and was still unable to form sentences at six years old. He struggled in his large kindergarten class where his busy teacher could not meet his special needs. Nathan’s mother applied for an education savings account, and was able to enroll Nathan in a specialized school that serves autistic children. Thanks to his education savings account, Nathan has blossomed, learning to speak and ask questions, and his future looks bright.

“The program is a boon to families, because they’re able to meet their children’s specific educational needs, and it’s a boon to taxpayers, because the program is a net-savings for the state,” said Butcher. “Education savings accounts are by far the most innovative school choice program to date.”

Nearly 40 states contain a constitutional provision known as the Blaine Amendment, which prohibits the direct transfer of government funds to private schools and has made crafting school choice programs that enable children to attend private schools challenging. Education savings accounts do not pose these constitutional challenges because, when a family receives an account, the funds become privately held and administered. When the Arizona teachers’ union brought a legal challenge to education savings accounts earlier this year, the court found the accounts did not violate the state constitution.

For any state legislature considering education savings account programs, Butcher outlines how to determine eligibility, funding sources, allowable expenses, and fraud prevention. The Goldwater Institute will continue to work with policymakers throughout the country to encourage adoption of the program.

To read “Education Savings Accounts: A Path to Give All Children an Effective Education and Prepare Them for Life” please visit:

To read Jonathan Butcher’s biography, please visit:

The Goldwater Institute protects America’s greatest inheritance—the liberty and economic freedom of the individual—by holding government accountable and standing up for regular taxpayers just like you. Learn more about the Goldwater Institute at




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