NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Are Education Savings Accounts the Future?

August 6, 2013

Education is on the verge of a new frontier. Online virtual schools are spreading and charter schools now account for some 2 million students. Parents are able to find hundreds of educational tools online. A movement is gaining momentum to give all parents the ability to choose where and how their children are educated, say Jonathan Butcher, education director for the Goldwater Institute, and Lindsey Burke, the Will Skillman Fellow in Education at the Heritage Foundation.

This movement builds on long-standing school choice programs, including the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, and private school scholarship options in Florida and Pennsylvania, among other states. The next generation of educational choice must offer more than school choice. Parents should have the flexibility to choose among schools, online courses, tutors, and other education services through education savings accounts (ESAs).

ESAs give parents control over the funds that a state would have spent on their child in a public school, allowing them to use their child's funds for a variety of education services and products.

Schools should be transforming existing voucher and tax credit programs into flexible education savings accounts. The options are:

  • Parents could use a public school education savings account for traditional school classes, public charter school offerings, and public virtual schools such as the Florida Virtual School, community colleges, or state universities.
  • Shift existing school voucher or scholarship tax credit funds to an education savings account. States with existing voucher programs or scholarship tax credit programs should allow parents to deposit voucher or scholarship funds into an education savings account in order to gain more flexibility with their child's funds.
  • Expanding the approved expenses covered by a voucher or private school scholarship. This would include expanding the uses of a school voucher or scholarship, transitioning the program into an education savings account.

Shifting existing school choice programs to education savings accounts would give parents more choices, and children more opportunity, in education. As online learning marches forward, empowering parents with control over education funding, and by extension, providing choices among courses, will give every child the opportunity to pursue learning options that meet his needs, at his pace, in learning environments his family chooses.

Source: Jonathan Butcher and Lindsey Burke, "Expanding Education Choices: From Vouchers and Tax Credits to Savings Accounts," Heritage Foundation, 2013.


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