Florida’s new school choice law likely to spark others

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Parents of certain special-needs students in Florida will be able to customize their children’s education, thanks to a law signed by Gov. Rick Scott on Friday.

The law allows certain parents access to Personalized Learning Scholarship Accounts, modeled on Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. Parents receive an allotted sum in their education savings account, which they can use for private school tuition, educational therapy, private tutoring, or other educational expenses. The money rolls over year to year and can be saved for college.

Florida is the second state to have an ESA law, after Arizona, which passed its law in 2011 and has expanded it every year. To qualify, Florida students must have an Individualized Education Plan or be diagnosed with Down syndrome, autism, Spina bifida, or certain other disabilities.

Current estimates project 1,800 students served in the ESA program’s first year, with about $10,000 in scholarship money for each, East said. Students receive 90 percent of what the state would have spent on their education if they remained in public schools.

Economists have noted that ESAs can encourage education providers, like private schools and tutors, to innovate and find ways to provide the same services for lower costs. Parents may want their child to attend a private school and receive extra tutoring in math, for example. While vouchers cover the cost of tuition, ESA money is more flexible: it can pay for tuition and tutoring, but only if there’s enough ESA money for both. If two schools provide the same quality education, the school with a lower tuition would leave parents with more ESA money to spend on tutors.

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