Advocates of an education savings account (ESA) program in the Show-Me State can look westward for both inspiration and a game plan.
In a big win for school choice earlier this month, Arizona’s governor Doug Ducey signed into law a universal education savings account program. Arizona was the first to establish an ESA program in 2011, and now it has become the first state to expand eligibility to all students.
Perhaps most exciting about Arizona’s success with ESAs is that Missouri has an opportunity to follow a very similar path, starting with a targeted program and expanding access to ESAs over time.
Originally, Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, which allow families to apply funds to a variety of educational services, were just for students with disabilities, those in the foster system, students living in failing school districts, and other special circumstances. Overall, about 22 percent of Arizona’s students were eligible for an ESA.
With passage of the new law, any student may now apply—but not all students will receive an ESA immediately. Under the new law an additional 5,500 students may sign up each year, and the program is capped at no more than 30,000 student participants by 2022. This cap, however, can be lifted by future legislation.
Arizona started small, and it paid off. A bill before Missouri’s Senate takes a similar approach by limiting eligibility to students with special needs. If parents are able to experience the power of ESAs here in our state, Missouri lawmakers may also find themselves working to expand the program to more families in the future.
With several tax-credit scholarship programs and now universal ESAs, Arizona is leading the way and responding to parents’ demands for more school choice. Let’s hope Missouri follows suit!