A survey conducted by researchers at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice found that families participating in Arizona’s education savings accounts were satisfied with the program.
While the findings may not be surprising, the survey marks the first time that satisfaction and demographic data has been collected for participants in the survey. Researchers emphasized that those who answered the survey were self-selected, so it is not a random sample.
The empowerment scholarship account program was formed in 2011 and originally only affected families of students with special needs. In 2012, the program was expanded to include children in active-duty military families, foster children, and families with students in D- or F-rated schools. In 2013, the program was again expanded to include eligible incoming kindergartners. (Previously, students had to be enrolled in public school for at least one year before they could be eligible for the scholarships.)
The funds may be used for private school tuition, educational therapy services and aides, textbooks, college tuition, online learning courses, and college textbooks, among other educational expenses.
A majority (71 percent) of parents participating in the program said they were “very satisfied,” while 19 percent said they were “satisfied,” and 10 percent said they were “somewhat satisfied.”
Three-quarters of those who responded to the survey were also spending some of their own personal money on their child’s educational expenses in addition to the money from the ESA. The survey also asked parents how they would spend an extra $3,000 in ESA money since the legislature voted this year to increase the amount from $3,000 to $6,000 per students. See the graph below for the results.
As far as demographic information, the survey found that of those who responded, 72 percent of families using ESAs had two or more children in their home. More than three-quarters (76 percent) of the families identified as white, 12 percent as Hispanic, 1.5 percent as African-American, and 1.5 percent as Native American. And most of the families participating in the program earned a salary of $71,000 or more per year.
Researchers called on the Arizona Department of Education to assist with collecting more demographic and satisfaction data about the program and also provided an opportunity for parents filling out the survey to provide suggestions for improvement.