Webinar Explores New Trend in School Choice: Education Savings Accounts

By Joetta Sack-Min

Education Savings Accounts are an indirect way to use taxpayer money to provide funding for private, parochial, and other forms of non-public education. A recent webinar with the Learning First Alliance and representatives from the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) examined the nuts and bolts of this type of tax loophole, which several state legislatures are debating this year.

ESAs allow parents to tap the state funding that would have been provided at a child’s school and use it for any educational expense—including private and parochial school tuition.

On the surface, ESAs, like vouchers, may look attractive to parents: Proponents say these offer another state-funded school choice option for parents, put private schools in reach of low-income students, and save money for the state. But in Arizona, money comes directly from the state’s general fund and costs have been increasing rapidly, says Chris Thomas, general counsel at ASBA. In 2015, ESAs grew from 2,175 to just over 4,000 last year.

Ultimately, the program exacerbates inequities in public education. ESAs also skirt laws prohibiting funding to a church-based school or private organization by sending the money directly to the parents.

Through its Arizona Education News Service, ASBA has followed the progression of ESAs in the state, and reported on a lack of accountability for how the funds are spent. One mother was even caught purchasing a big-screen TV with her child’s funds, and while the state says it has made improvements to the system to avoid abuses, watchdogs have said there are still too few people in the state education agency to monitor such purchases. Read the series of stories here:

http://azednews.com/after-six-years-esa-program-still-vexed-by-financial-accountability/
http://azednews.com/esa-expansion-would-cost-state-more-money/

View the archived webinar at https://learningfirst.adobeconnect.com/p6a8ef1urw6/

 

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Chart with difference between school vouchers and ESAs

"ESAs allow parents to tap the state funding that would have been provided at a child’s school and use it for any educational expense—including private and parochial school tuition."