Education Savings Accounts Provide Solution

February 25, 2014

American education is in need of reform and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) provide a potential solution, says Spencer Irvine of Accuracy in Academia.

Detailing a panel discussion put on by the Heritage Foundation on school choice, Irvine describes the panelists' contributions to the school choice debate, which focused on ESAs, a program that would place state funds in a bank account for parents that can be used to pay for private school tuition or other education expenses. In Arizona, ESA funds are $3,000 per student. While they were originally only available for special needs students, ESAs have been expanded to adopted children, children of military families and students in failing schools.

Foundation for Excellence in Education Senior Adviser Matthew Ladner pointed to the United States' unsustainable education spending, noting that the elderly and K-12 populations are simultaneously growing at a rapid pace in many states.

  • Without a new education model, states are going to struggle to produce the level of funds for these students to which Americans are accustomed, he said. Ladner used Florida as an example, where the supply of public dollars is only dropping while demand for those dollars is increasing.
  • On top of this disparity between supply and demand, Ladner noted that the system is plainly ineffective. "[W]e spend on average about $12,000 per child per year and about a third of our kids are full grade level proficiency...that's a system we can't afford."
  • The ESA model works, Ladner said, because parents economize and make the decision as to where to send their education dollars, rather than leaving that decision up to "bureaucrats and lawmakers." And with parents in charge of these funds, it incentivizes the creation of better, and cheaper, educational models, he explained.

Jason Bedrick, a Cato Institute education policy analyst, pointed to parental satisfaction as an important factor in assessing the success of ESAs. In Arizona, 49 percent of parents were dissatisfied with their previous public school, but all parents in the ESA program were satisfied, with no parents responding that they were "strongly dissatisfied" with the accounts.

Bedrick distinguished an ESA from a voucher because "it allows parents to maximum their value in such a way that voucher programs...simply don't allow." Lowest income families were those least satisfied with their previous public schooling and therefore received the most benefit from ESAs.

Source: Spencer Irvine, "Education Savings Saves Students," Accuracy in Academia, February 10, 2014.

 

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