2017 Research Update: ESA Policy Brief

May 11, 2017 |

A Critical Analysis

Education savings accounts (ESAs) have been variously hailed as both a “voucher on steroids” and the“iPhone of the school choice movement.” Unlike the iPhone, however, this “innovation” is neither widely adopted nor proven, and has the distinct potential to cause harm.

As of this writing, ESAs have been authorized in five states: Arizona, Florida, Nevada, Tennessee, and Mississippi. The limited evidence that exists surrounding ESAs runs directly counter to proponents’ claims that they will lead to customized education solutions that will provide superior educational opportunities for low-income families and students.

The reality is ESAs systematically reduce the availability of financial resources to support education, provide a taxpayer-funded subsidy for unaccountable private schools and commercial vendors, and primarily benefit more affluent students and families, some of who would have attended private school without the subsidy.

Proponents of ESAs nonetheless seek to create a false sense of momentum around these programs and to cherry-pick very mixed evidence from other school voucher programs to make up for the lack of actual data or research on ESA programs.

This report seeks to: (1) provide policymakers with a comparative analysis of ESA programs in the small handful of states where they have been adopted to provide a better understanding of the structural elements of ESA programs to date; and (2) highlight significant policy concerns regarding ESAs and their potential adverse impact on students, public education, and efforts to create high-quality, accountable educational choices for students and families.


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