By Lindsey Burke, Jason Bedrick, M.P.P.
In 2014, Florida became the second state to enact education savings accounts (ESAs), a relatively new form of educational choice that empowers families to utilize state funding to customize K–12 schooling options beyond just private school tuition. This year, more than 10,000 Florida students with special needs utilized the program, which is now called the Gardiner Scholarship. This study examines how parents in Florida used their ESA funds during the first two school years of the program.
In this report, you will learn:
Florida families are using ESAs to customize educational opportunities for their children beyond just private school tuition.More than a third of families used their ESA to customize their child’s education (528 of 1,492 participants) during the 2014–15 school year, utilizing a variety of educational products and services in addition to or in lieu of private school tuition. The number of customizers increased to 42 percent of all participants (1,953 of 4,686) during the 2015–16 school year.
A majority of families using an ESA to customize educational opportunity are doing so outside the traditional private school model.Over the two-year period, 55 percent (2014–205) and 51 percent (2015–2016) of customizing families tailored their child’s education without utilizing a brick-and-mortar private school. These families, known as “independent customizers,” use ESAs for instructional materials, specialized services, curriculum and private tutoring for their students.
The Florida program is growing in size but remains a small portion of the overall student population in the state.During the 2014–15 school year, 1,492 Gardiner ESA participants spent $8.4 million on education-related services, products, and providers. Approximately 2.59 million children attended Florida public schools that same school year. The number of participants and associated expenditures increased significantly between the first and second years. During the 2015–16 school year, 4,686 Gardiner ESA participants spent a total of $31.4 million dollars.
Usage of the Florida program mirrors results in Arizona, which passed and enacted the first ESA program in 2011.EdChoice research in Arizona found that roughly one-third of families used their ESAs to customize educational options. Florida families similarly demonstrated the high value they place on customization through ESAs. Policymakers in other states across the country should take note: When given the chance, parents will seize the opportunity to educate their children using a variety of services and products.