Picture a typical public school classroom: Rows of students facing a blackboard, with a teacher lecturing. It’s the same scene in 2011 as it was in 1911 – and, in a world of laptop computers, smartphones and iPads, it’s wildly out of date and ineffective. But that is changing.
Today, the breadth of digital learning programs extends from full-time online virtual schools to occasional online instruction that supplements a student’s traditional coursework. The benefits include improved academic achievement and a better overall learning experience for students. The growth of online learning solutions changes the discussion of choice in education – the conversation moves from choosing a school to choosing individual services that specifically meet a student’s needs.
Combined with Education Savings Accounts, these advances in online learning create the foundation for unparalleled customization in a child’s education, providing experiences that better challenge students and prepare them for the real world.
In 2011, Arizona became the first state in the nation to give special-needs students and their families a way to customize and improve their education, and do it all for less than the cost of a typical public school program. Arizona’s new Education Savings Accounts give K-12 special-needs students 90 percent of a student’s formula-based funding amount. Parents can use these funds for a variety of educational services tailored to their child’s needs, including tutoring services, online programs, and private school tuition. Special-education students who attended a public school in the prior year are eligible, and families must agree to not enroll their child in public school.
This paper examines how expanding access to online or virtual learning programs through state-funded Education Savings Accounts could enable Arizona families to truly customize their children’s education.