In 2011, Arizona became the first state to adopt the most flexible school reform yet, an education savings account (ESA) plan. It provides parents who believe their child is poorly served in the local public school with an annual budget they can spend on a wide variety of accredited alternatives—not just private or parochial schools, but tutoring, online academies, special-needs services, and even computer equipment for home schooling.
More recently, five other states have followed Arizona’s lead: Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, and just this year North Carolina. Initially these programs were designed to better serve learning-disabled children, but with the realization that most of its students could be educated independently for a fraction of public-school per pupil spending, Nevada authorized a plan open to any of that state’s children in 2015.
To date, Democrats in the Nevada legislature have held up funding for about 10,000 applicants, but nearly all of Arizona’s K-12 children are now eligible for an ESA worth 90 percent of their district’s per pupil spending.
With this history in mind, Marty Lueken, director of fiscal policy and analysis at the EdChoice Foundation, and I decided to calculate how much ESAs could help a financially troubled blue state, where the longstanding alliance of teacher unions and liberal politicians has created per pupil costs that are three, four, and even five times what is needed to independently educate. Our goal was to see how much the taxpayers of Illinois, New Jersey, Kentucky, California, or Connecticut might benefit if just a small percentage of public school families were funded to take charge of their own children’s schooling…
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