Schooling in America Series: Support for Universal Education Savings Account Trends Upward

Arizona made history in July when it became the second state to create a universal education savings account (ESA) program. The expanded Empowerment Scholarship Program is available to students regardless of household income or special needs status. This expansion, combined with recent reforms achieved in other states, suggest a growing preference among choice-friendly lawmakers to make school choice programs be available universally to all students, rather than a select few.

The Grand Canyon State continued to ride a wave that started in 2021, a year that not only brought about a record number of new school choice programs, but also saw the most expansive programs seen to date. First, West Virginia passed the first universal ESA, and Indiana doubled the income cap on its voucher and tax credit scholarship programs to 555 percent of the federal poverty line, or $154,013 for a family of four, which covers about four out of five Hoosier students.

But is this what parents and the general public want? According to our polling data, yes.

We ask this question each year in our Schooling in America survey (SIA), an annual national poll of the general public and parents of school-age children in collaboration with Braun Research. From April 7 to May 16, we surveyed a nationally representative sample of American adults (N = 1,200) and current school parents (n = 1,200). We oversampled the latter population and had sample size targets for African American and Latino current school parents.

The survey contains a split-sample question. A respondent will either answer:

“Some people believe that ESAs should be available to all families, regardless of income and special needs. Do you agree or disagree with that statement?”


“Some people believe that ESAs should only be available to families based on financial need. Do you agree or disagree with that statement?”

Which question the respondent answers is chosen randomly. Random assignment between those two questions allows a better understanding of how different ESA language affects public opinion by preventing one type of ESA from affecting a person’s opinion about another type of ESA.

To present results, we calculated the weighted average for the share of people who “somewhat agreed” or “strongly agreed” with the statement presented to them.

More people believe ESA programs should be universal than targeted. More than three out of four respondents agreed with the statement that suggested ESAs should be available to all families, while just over half agreed that availability should be based on financial need. Not only that, but people were twice as likely to disagree that ESAs should be restricted to a certain income threshold than they were to disagree that ESAs should be available to all families.

We’ve been asking this split-sample question on ESA Universality since 2015. Favor for universal ESAs has grown about ten percentage points over this period, and every year has seen a 19- to 30-percentage-point advantage for universal ESAs over limited ESAs.


This preference for universal ESAs over targeted holds true for every demographic group we measured. Broken down by race and ethnicity, Hispanics were most likely to support universal ESAs at 81 percent, followed by Blacks/African-Americans at 77 percent and whites at 75 percent. White Americans were least likely to agree with keeping ESAs needs-based at 47 percent. Just over two-thirds of Blacks/African-Americans (68%) and half of Hispanics (55%) agreed with limiting ESA eligibility.

There is minimal partisan difference on agreement for universal ESAs, with 75 percent of Democrats supporting universal ESAs compared to 72 percent of Republicans. Republicans also were less likely to support needs-based ESAs (49%) than Democrats (63%).

Lower-income respondents were more likely to agree that an ESA should be needs-based (59%) than middle- or higher-income respondents (49% and 40%, respectively). However, their approval for universal ESAs also was greater than that of the general population. Seventy-nine percent of lower-income Americans supported universal ESAs compared to 76 percent of middle-income respondents and 72 percent of high-income respondents.

And there is minimal difference in universal ESA favorability between those with and without college degrees (76% and 74%, respectively). People who hold at least a bachelor’s degree were 14 percentage points less likely to agree that ESAs should have needs-based restrictions (42%) than those without a bachelor’s degree (56%).

Based on our SIA polling results this year, expansive school choice legislation reflects the policy preferences of most Americans – families desire flexibility and options for their children’s education, and generally, they want all families to enjoy those benefits as well.