In New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis invoked the phrase "laboratories of democracy" to describe how a "state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country."
It seems that the people of Arizona are doing just that with education savings accounts (ESA).
The scheme works like this: The Arizona Department of Education deposits 90% of an eligible child's funding from the state funding formula into the parent's private bank account. Parents then use a debit card or an online payment service (for example, PayPal) to pay for education-related expenses such as textbooks, private school tuition, online classes, and tutors.
In May 2013, a focus group for those using ESAs found that 94% were "very satisfied" and 6% were "somewhat satisfied." That's 100% of participants who were more than "satisfied."
Is there any other government program whose beneficiaries are 100% more than satisfied?
Of course, some glitches have emerged and need to be worked out. Apparently, public school and district officials have a low level of knowledge about ESAs. (Well, of course! They don't want those $$$'s flowing away from their coffers.) There are also significant challenges in renewing a child's special needs diagnosis at a public school, which is required to remain eligible for a savings account. (Again, of course! Put obstacles in the way so that parents will stop sending their children elsewhere to school.)
In this experiment, each ESA has resulted in a cost-savings to the taxpayer meaning that a high-quality education can be provided for less than what taxpayers would otherwise be compelled pay for public schools.
Once the glitches are worked out, might ESAs will be implemented in the other 49 laboratories of democracy?
Come to think of it, wouldn't it have been great had Obamacare followed the same approach?
Let the discussion begin...
To read about Arizona's ESAs, click on the following link:
"Dollars, Flexibility and an Effective Education: Parent Voices on Arizona's Education Savings Accounts."