| November 23, 2015

ESA Overview

Arizona Florida Mississippi Tennessee Nevada
Official ESA Program Name Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSAs) Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Program, 5-Year Pilot Tennessee Individualized Education Account Program (IEA) Education Savings Accounts
Year Enacted 2011 2014 2015 2015 2015
Year Operational 2011 2014 2015 2016 2016
Students Participating: 2014-15 1,311 1,265 275 n/a n/a
Student Funding 90% of charter school base funding amount 90% state and local public school funding $6,500 100% state and local public school funding

●100% public school funding, special needs & low-income students

●90% all other students

Current Amount

●$5,300 average general ed.

●$3,500 - $26,000 average special ed.

$10,000 average $6,500 $6,200 average

●$5,700 average at 100%

●$5,100 average at 90%

Student Eligibility

State resident and at least one of the following:

●Identified with a disability; or

●In/would otherwise attend a failing public school; or

●Parent/guardian is Active Duty military stationed in AZ or killed in the line of duty; or

●In/adopted from the foster care system; or

●Sibling of a current/former ESA recipient; or

●Pre-K or K students eligible to attend a public school; or

●Received a tax-credit private school scholarship as a student with disabilities or from the foster care system; or

●Child residing within an Indian Reservation

State resident ages 3 through Grade 12

●With an IEP (Individualized Education Program); or

●Diagnosed disability; or

●Kindergarteners deemed "high risk" for developmental delays

State resident identified with an IEP in the past 18 months.

Eligible to enroll in K-12 public schools, identified with an IEP, diagnosed with a disability, and one of the following:

●Enrolled in a state public school during the previous 2 semesters; or

●Be attending a public school for the first time; or

●Received an IEA (Individualized Education Account) in the previous school year

All students who attended a state public school at least 100 days prior to ESA application.
Legal Status
Legal Challenge(s) Yes-Niehaus v. Huppenthal (2011) Yes-Faasse v. Scott (2014) No No Yes-Duncan vs Nevada
Filed By

●AZ School Boards Association;

●AZ Education Association;

●AZ Association of School Business Officials; and

●Sharon Niehaus, Continental Elementary School District (in Green Valley) Governing Board member

●FL Education Association;

●Tom Faasse, FEA member, public school teacher, and parent; and

● Three more public school parents

●ACLU of NV on behalf of individuals: Ruby Duncan; Rabbi Mel Hecht; Howard Watts III; Leora Olivas; and Adam Berger

Program upheld in 2012 & 2013-ESAs are:

●Neutral toward religion-parents have a variety of educational choices; and parents choose, not government.

●Do not violate the "Aid Clause"- beneficiaries are students, not schools; and no public funds are earmarked for a particular private school;

●Do not forfeit students' right to a "free public education"- they can re-enroll, just like home- and private-schooled students; parents are not coerced into accepting ESAs; and ESAs expand education options, not restrict them 2014-AZ Supreme Court refuses to review appeal.

Program upheld in 2014-Plaintiff's motion dismissed with prejudice for: Failure to show special injury, as claimed, to public school children and teachers because public schools will lose funding

Filed in Clark County District Court, Aug. 27, 2015. Claims ESA program violates:

●Article XI, Section 10 (the No-Aid Clause);

●Article XI, Section 2 (Uniformity Clause)-creates a competing, non-public education system; and

●Article XI, Section 2 (Uniformity Clause)-claims religious schools may discriminate on the basis of "religion, sexual orientation, gender identity"

ESA Fund Disbursement Prepaid, dedicated-use debit card through private bank account. State agency makes quarterly deposits upon submission and approval of quarterly expense reports. Leftover funds roll over. Direct deposit reimbursement of approved expenses (pre-authorization recommended for items not on pre-approved expense list); or direct payment can be sent to approved providers. One non-profit has policies for parents who cannot afford out-of-pocket expenses. State Education Department reimburses parents quarterly after review of reimbursement form and documentation. Funds can also be paid to education provider directly if parent approves. Prepaid, dedicated-use debit card through private bank account. State agency makes quarterly deposits. Private financial management firms approved by the State Treasurer. State agency makes quarterly deposits.
Unused Funds Rollover Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Eligible for College Savings Yes Yes No. Return to state upon completion of high school. Yes No. Return to state upon completion of high school.
Family Income Limit No No No No No
Prior Year Public School Requirement Yes- with exceptions No No- but preference is given to public school students. Yes- with exceptions Yes
Private School Students Eligible Yes-if meet exceptions Yes-if meet qualifications No No No
Home School Students Eligible Yes-if meet exceptions; and can use funds to educate at home. No-but can use funds to educate at home. No-and cannot use ESA funds to educate at home. Yes-if meet exceptions; but use of ESA funds to educate at home is unclear. No-but can use ESA funds to educate at home.
Geographic Limit No-Statewide No-Statewide No-Statewide No-Statewide No-Statewide
Enrollment Cap Yes-0.5 percent of total traditional public and public charter school students through 2019: ~5,400 students. No Yes-500 in 2015-16; increasing 500 students each year thereafter. No No
Account Cap 90% of charter school per-student base funding amount 90% state and local public school funding $6,500 in 2015-16; tied to proportional annual base cost changes 100% of state and local funds reflected in the state funding formula and categorical grants for students with special needs 100% public school base formula funding.
Testing Mandates No

State or nationally norm-referenced test

No State or nationally norm-referenced test State or nationally norm-referenced test
Administering Agency State Department of Education; Treasurer State-approved non-profits (currently 2) State Board of Education; State Department of Education; approved non-profit State Board of Education State Treasurer; approved private financial institutions
Agency Administration Fee Yes-State Department of Education can retain up to 5%; 1% of that amount must go to Treasurer Yes-non-profits have an allowance worth 3% of total awards Yes-State Board of Education can retain up to 6% Yes-State Department of Education can retain up to 4% Yes-State Treasurer to establish "reasonable fees" for management of ESAs.
Expense Reports Yes-quarterly Yes-quarterly Yes-quarterly In development In development
Audits Quarterly and annually all accounts; random audits; and anonymous fraud reporting, phone and website Annual Auditor General audit of all non-profit PSLA accounts Random throughout the year. Biennial Program reviews starting in 2019. Quarterly and annually all accounts; random audits; and anonymous fraud reporting, phone and website Randomly and annually by a CPA/licensed public accountant. State Treasurer can require additional audits.
Sanctions for Misspending Account frozen or terminated if not repaid; legal action to recover funds. Commissioner of Education can deny, suspend, or revoke funds. Any fraudulently spent funds must be repaid. Fraudulent providers will be removed from program. Violators may be referred to appropriate law enforcement agency. In development Accounts frozen or dissolved; legal action to recover funds.
Express Prohibition Against State Control of Private Schools/Providers Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Express Prohibition Against Treating ESAs as Taxable Income Yes Yes No Yes Yes

Sources: Author’s table based on data from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Institute for Justice, the Heartland Institute and respective state legislatures and education agencies. Last updated October 31, 2015

1“Milton Friedman, “The Role of Government in Education,” Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice,

2Milton Friedman, “Our Best Chance for Better Schools,” New York Post, February 10, 2002,

3Friedman Foundation, National Catalogue of School Choice Programs. Data provided to author January 20, 2015; cf. The ABCs of School Choice, 2015 Edition, January 28, 2015. Note: On June 29, 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down the Douglas County, Colorado, pilot voucher program. See Brittany Corona, “Colorado Supreme Court Rules Douglas County Vouchers Unconstitutional,” Friedman Foundation Blog, June 29, 2015, Home school figures as of 2012 from the U.S. Department of Education, Digest of Education Statistics, Table 206.10, prepared November 2014. Home school growth figures from Brian D. Ray, “Research Facts on Homeschooling,” National Home Education Research Institute, January 6, 2015, Leading reasons parents choose homeschooling is personalizing learning and better academics. Research confirms that regardless of parents’ socioeconomic status or education levels, homeschooled students typically score 15 to 30 percentile points higher than their public school peers on standardized tests. Ibid.

4“Education Savings Accounts a winner in Nevada. Why not Oklahoma too?” The Oklahoman, June 7, 2015,

5U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education, 2012-2013 Federal Pell Grant Program End-of-Year Report, Table 22,

6Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1553 on April 12, 2011.

7Institute for Justice, “Ariz. Supreme Court Declares Edu. Choice Program Constitutional,” Freedom Flix,

8Author’s calculation is based on Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Oklahoma: Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities,; cf. ABCs of School Choice 2015 Edition, pp. 79-80.

9Oklahoma State Department of Education, A-F Report Card 2013-2014 Grades PK – 12, Author’s school tally is based on Oklahoma State Department of Education, 2014 Statewide Grades, Twenty-nine schools did not have grades and were excluded from the stated percentage.

10Author’s calculation is based on Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Oklahoma: Equal Opportunity Education Scholarships,; cf. ABCs of School Choice 2015 Edition, pp. 81-82.

11Lindsey Burke, “The Education Debit Card: What Arizona Parents Purchase with Education Savings Accounts,” Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, August 28, 2013,

12Jonathan Butcher, A New Day for School Choice: Education Savings Accounts Turn 3 Years Old, Goldwater Institute Policy Brief No. 264, December 16, 2013,

13Participation increased from approximately 130 students in 2011 to 1,311 students in 2015. Steve Schimpp, “Fiscal Note: SB 1363, Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Expansion,” Joint Legislative Budget Committee, Arizona State Legislature, February 25, 2013,; and Friedman Foundation, ABCs of School Choice 2015 Edition, pp. 15-16.

14Jonathan Butcher and Jason Bedrick, Schooling Satisfaction: Arizona Parents’ Opinions on Using Education Savings Accounts, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, October 2013, p. 13,

15Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed SB 850 on June 20, 2015. Stephanie Linn, “Florida Governor Signs Nation’s Second ESAs, Expands Tax-Credit Scholarships,” Friedman Foundation Blog, June 20, 2014,; Mary C. Tillotson, “Florida’s new school choice law likely to spark others,”, Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, June 23, 2014,; and Erin Kourkounis, “Lawmakers Triple Funding for Special-Needs Scholarships,” Tampa Tribune, June 30, 2015,

16Kourkounis, “Lawmakers Triple Funding.”

17Heather Kays, “Florida Special-Needs Choice Program Expands,” School Reform News, Heartland Institute, July 13, 2015,

18See “Stacey and her son Liam” video via Step Up for Students, Hear from our Families,

19Mississippi Legislature, Senate Bill 2695, signed by the governor on April 16, 2015,; cf.“Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant Signs Bills Creating New School Funding Accounts for Students with Special Needs,” Goldwater Institute Press Release, April 16, 2015,

20Tennessee General Assembly, Senate Bill 27/House Bill 138, signed by the governor on May 18, 2015,; cf. “Governor Haslam signs Individualized Education Act,” WGNS News Radio AM 1450, May 18, 2015,

21Gov. Brian Sandoval signed Senate Bill 302 on June 2, 2015,; cf. Michael Chartier, “Everything You Need to Know About Nevada’s Universal ESA Bill,” Friedman Foundation Blog, May 29, 2015 (updated June 2, 2015),

22American Federation for Children, “New National Poll Shows Growing Momentum for School Choice as 2016 Race Kicks Off,” January 22, 2015,

23Paul DiPerna, 2015 Schooling in America Survey: Perspectives on School Choice, Common Core, and Standardized Testing, Friedman Foundation, Polling Paper No. 24, June 2015, pp. 33, 39, 47, and 53; cf. “Poll Shows Nationwide Support for Emerging School Choice Program,” Friedman Foundation Press Release, June 30, 2015,

24Ibid., pp. 47-48. The one demographic group not expressing strong support for ESAs were those 55 and older, with 45 percent in favor of ESAs and 41 percent opposed.

25Ibid., p. 70.

26Ibid., pp. 48 and 52.

27Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs, “Oklahoma K-12 and School Choice Survey,” January 28, 2014,; cf. “7 Observations on Oklahoma Voters and Pre-K–12 Education,” January 28, 2014,

28Ibid., p. 17.

29Christopher B. Swanson, Special Education in America, Education Research Center, November 3, 2008,; Vicki E. Alger, “Gratitude for Our Armed Forces Should Not Stop at the Schoolhouse Door: Providing Educational Choice through Military Education Savings Accounts,” Independent Women’s Forum, May 2012,; Alger, Foster-Care Opportunity Scholarships: The Benefits of Expanding Education Options to Students, Public Schools, and States, Independent Women’s Forum, Position Paper No. 31, July 2010,; and Alger and Evelyn B. Stacey, Down but Not Out in D.C.: Bi-Partisan, Bi-Cameral Efforts to Continue the Opportunity Scholarship Program, Independent Women’s Forum, Policy Brief #25, August 2009,

30Brandon Dutcher, “Luther superintendent cites behavior problems, including students hitting, cursing teachers,” Choice Remarks, OCPA Blog, August 8, 2015,; cf. Patrick B. McGuigan, “OK: Safety scholarships envisioned for students in unsafe public schools,”, Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, November 28, 2012,; and Vicki Alger, Safety Opportunity Scholarships (SOS): How States Can Fulfill the Promise of Safe Schools for All Students, Independent Women’s Forum Policy Paper No. 34, September 16, 2011,

31Vicki Alger, Faith-based Schools: Their Contributions to American Education, Society, and the Economy, Final Report Prepared for the Commission on Faith-based Schools of the American Center for School Choice, November 2013, pp. 19-23,

32Ibid., pp. 24-26. Two additional gold-standard, random assignment studies have since been published: Matthew M. Chingos and Paul E. Peterson, "Experimentally Estimated Impacts of School Vouchers on College Enrollment and Degree Attainment," Journal of Public Economics, February 2015,; and Patrick J. Wolf, Brian Kisida, Babette Gutmann, Michael Puma, Nada Eissa, and Lou Rizzo, "School Vouchers and Student Outcomes: Experimental Evidence from Washington, DC," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, February 2013,

33Greg Forster, A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice, 3rd ed., Friedman Foundation, 2013, pp. 10-13,

34Clive R. Belfield and Henry M. Levin, “The Effects of Competition on Educational Outcomes: A Review of the US Evidence,” National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, March 2002, p. 2, and Table 1, p. 47,

35Jay P. Greene and Greg Forster, Vouchers for Special Education Students: An Evaluation of Florida’s McKay Scholarship Program, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Civic Report No. 38, June 2003,

36Jay P. Greene, “Public School Response to Special Education Vouchers: The Impact of Florida’s McKay Scholarship Program on Disability Diagnosis and Student Achievement in Public Schools,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Vol. 33, No. 2 (June) 2011, pp. 138-158; and Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters, “The Effect of Special Education Vouchers on Public School Achievement: Evidence From Florida’s McKay Scholarship Program,” Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Civic Report No. 52, April 2008, See also Stuart Buck and Jay P. Greene, “The Case for Special Education Vouchers,” Education Next, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Winter) 2010, pp. 36-43,

37Florida Department of Education, Personal Learning Scholarships Accounts Program,

38Step Up for Students, Florida Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSA) Parent and Guardian Support Handbook School Year 2014-15,

39AAA Scholarship Foundation, Pre-Authorization for PLSA Purchase of Item and/or Curriculum, online form,

40Jonathan Butcher, “Dollars, Flexibility, and an Effective Education: Parent Voices on Arizona’s Education Savings Accounts,” Goldwater Institute Policy Report No. 263, October 3, 2013, p. 5,

41Vance H. Fried, “Designing an Education Savings Account for Oklahoma,” 1889 Institute, February 2015, p. 6.

42National Association of State Budget Officers, State Expenditure Report, 2014, p. 16; and The Fiscal Survey of the States: Spring 2015, p. 1,

43See, for example, Michael C. Carnuccio, “Free Market Friday: A new way of funding,” The Journal Record, August 6, 2015,; and Oklahoma Educated Workforce Initiative (OEWI), Understanding Oklahoma's School Funding Formula and Student-Centric Alternatives, June 8, 2015.

44HB 2458 with these requirements was signed into law on May 2, 2013,

45Burke, “The Education Debit Card,” p. 13.

46Niehaus v. Huppenthal (2011). See Institute for Justice, Niehaus v. Huppenthal -Arizona Education Savings,

47Faasse v. Scott (2014). See Bre Payton and William Patrick, “Judge tosses teachers labor union lawsuit against FL scholarship program for disabled kids again,”, Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, January 5, 2015,; and William Patrick “FL teachers union attack on poor, disabled student scholarships fails — for now,”, Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, September 25, 2014,

48Institute for Justice, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris,; and “U.S. Supreme Court Dismisses Legal Challenge to Arizona School Choice Program,” April 4, 2011, Press Release,

49Quoted in Heather Kays, “ACLU Files Lawsuit Against Nevada ESA Program,” School Reform News, Heartland Institute, August 27, 2015, See also Leslie Hiner, “Educational Choice for Nevada Public School Students Threatened By Lawsuit,” Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice Blog, August 27, 2015,

50See, for example, Nour Habib, “AG backs Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarship law in state Supreme Court brief,” Tulsa World, May 5, 2015,; Michael C. Carnuccio, “Free Market Friday: Voice of reason,” The Journal Record, April 30, 2015,; Kim Archer, “Student voucher law unconstitutional due to 'no-aid-to-religion' provision, judge rules,” Tulsa World, August 29, 2014,; and Brandon Dutcher, “Hofmeister supports suing parents of special-needs children,” Choice Remarks, OCPA Blog, June 5, 2014,

51Greg Forster, “Toddler Technocracy,” OCPA, August 1, 2015,

52SB 1363 was signed into law on June 20, 2013, See also Schimpp, “Fiscal Note: SB 1363.”

53Joseph Bast and Herbert J. Walberg, “Ten Principles of School Choice, Heartland Institute,” 2004, pp. 22-23,

54Butcher, “Education Savings Accounts Turn 3 Years Old,” p. 8; and Associated Press, “Arizona scholarship program turning away hundreds of kids,” published in The Arizona Republic, August 3, 2014,

55Jason Bedrick and Lindsey M. Burke, “On Designing K-12 Education Savings Accounts,” Education Next, January 26, 2015,

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