COMMENTARY: Empowerment Scholarship Accounts let parents follow the money

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Last September, this paper reported that Bisbee High School received a $22,000 grant to help with implementation of the Common Core standards (“Bisbee students, parents speak out on ITV classes,” Sept. 15, 2013). These new academic benchmarks are required in Arizona and 44 other states. 

Certainly the grant money would benefit teachers who are leading students through the maze of new textbooks, teaching methods, and standardized tests, right?

Apparently not. “The money did not go to the teachers, it went to the salaries of the administration,” reported Shar Porier. 

Unfortunately, spending education dollars outside of the classroom is a trend in Arizona. The state auditor reports that Arizona schools are spending less on classroom expenses (such as teacher salaries) than ever since the auditor started keeping track. Only 54 cents out of every dollar spent on education is spent in Arizona classrooms, seven cents lower than the national average. Schools are spending more these days on administrator salaries, grounds keeping, and food service.

Parents are left wondering how their children are going to be held to new standards while more money is going to the front office. 

Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are a simple solution to high administrative expenses in Arizona. These accounts let parents make sure money is being spent to educate their children, not to pay overhead.

Kathy Visser knows this first hand. In 2011, she started using an account for her son Jordan, and she makes decisions over every part of his education, down to the last penny. 

Each fiscal quarter the state deposits public money into a private bank account that Kathy uses for Jordan’s education. Those funds open up a world of options, including online courses, personal tutors and education therapies, and private school. She can even save funds from year-to-year to cover college expenses later. 

Jordan has mild cerebral palsy, and Kathy says he didn’t fit in anywhere in the public school system. So Kathy used the Empowerment Scholarship Account to enroll Jordan in a private school. At his new school, Jordan learned to read for the first time and enjoyed his math lessons. Later, Kathy decided Jordan would be better served at home with individual attention from tutors and therapy sessions that fit his needs. 

“It’s been a Godsend,” Kathy says.

Some 230,000 Arizona children are eligible for the accounts, including children with special needs, like Jordan, and children from schools rated “D” or “F” on the state report card. Adopted children are also eligible, along with children in active-duty military families, and children about to enter kindergarten that meet any of these criteria. The application period opened January 1, and parents have until April 1 to apply (for more information, visit 

The Goldwater Institute and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice surveyed parents using the accounts and found that 90 percent of respondents were “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the accounts. No parent reported any level of dissatisfaction. The survey also found that parents like Kathy Visser are taking advantage of the opportunity to meet the unique needs of their children and using the accounts to hire personal tutors, pay for homeschool curriculum and online classes, and save for college. 

Other families are using the accounts to help pay private school tuition. “Some parents of modest means are surprised to discover that the education savings accounts put private school within reach,” reported Fernanda Santos and Motoko Rich in the New York Times in March 2013. 

This year, Rep. Warren Petersen (R-12) is sponsoring a bill that would allow school district boards to make all of the children in their district eligible for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. 

For Bisbee parents wondering where that $22,000 went, Empowerment Scholarship Accounts would help make sure the money doesn’t disappear on their children again.

Jonathan Butcher is Education Director at the Goldwater Institute.

Upright on Mon, 01/27/2014 - 2:25pm

“The money did not go to the teachers, it went to the salaries of the
administration,” reported Shar Porier. This is nonsense. Seriously, people
at the Herald, shouldn’t fact-checking be part of publishing?

Scottsdalebubbe on Mon, 05/05/2014 - 9:05am

Empowerment Scholarships let the money follow the politicians who vote for it
and line the pockets of the highly profitable charter school lobby.

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