There is growing interest by states in Education Savings Account (ESA) programs, with at least 22 state legislatures pursuing or considering the policy in 2015. The programs take funds that otherwise would be spent educating children in traditional public schools and sets them aside into accounts controlled by parents.
The parents then can use the money to customize education plans for their children. The accounts are particularly beneficial for families that have students with disabilities because the funds also can be used for expenses such as therapy and educational aids.
Arizona became the first state to pass an ESA bill in 2011 and Florida passed the country’s second program last year. Both target students with disabilities. This year, ESA bills have been filed in 14 states, with at least 8 others seriously considering the policy this session.
ESAs create a system of education that is both accountable and truly personalized for each child. Examples of how parents can use the funds include the following:
- Private school tuition
- Therapy for students with disabilities
- Instructional materials/curriculum
- Online programs/courses
- Á-la-carte public school courses
- Exam fees
- Savings for future college costs
The key is customization. ESAs allow parents to plan for their child’s unique needs. They create an entirely customized and flexible approach to education, where the ultimate goal is maximizing each child’s natural learning abilities.
For example, the parents of a visually impaired child could pay for private school tuition, hire a tutor with expertise in teaching visually-impaired students, and put any leftover funds into a college savings plan.
Parents of a student with autism could send their child to a private school for half of the day and spend the remaining funds on educationally-related therapies and educational software that allows them to direct some of their child’s education at home.
There are numerous options. Parents can homeschool children in subjects they know, use vetted online providers for other subjects, and hire tutors for courses in which their children struggle.
Such out-of-the-box approaches to education are not possible through the traditional public school funding model in which parents are limited to options provided by their school districts. Parents know when a school is not meeting their child’s needs. An ESA empowers these moms and dads with the financial resources to choose better alternatives.
Through an ESA, education is no longer “use it or lose it.” Parents decide where the best values are, and they have the ability to direct their child’s funds in the most efficient way.
Students and families are better served and at no additional cost to the state.
About the author
Adam Peshek is State Policy Director of School Choice for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Previously, Adam was legislative director for the Foundation for Florida’s Future and a research associate at the Reason Foundation. He received his undergraduate degree from Florida State University and is currently a graduate student at Johns Hopkins.