Education Savings Accounts Challenge Common Core’s One-Size-Fits-All Schooling

With a growing Common Core opt-out backlash by parents and students against one-size-fits all government schooling, it’s no surprise that the latest innovation in educational choice is allowing more parents to personalize their children’s learning through educational savings accounts, or ESAs. As I explained in a recent Washington Times opinion piece:

The concept behind ESAs is simple. Parents who do not prefer a public school education simply promise not to enroll their child for the upcoming year, and 90 percent of what the state would have sent to the public school is deposited into that child’s ESA instead. Parents then use a type of “debit card” to pay for education services and supplies, including private school tuition and fees, online courses, tutoring, therapists, and testing programs. Importantly, leftover funds remain in the child’s ESA and can be used for future education expenses, such as college.

Arizona became the first state to enact an ESA program in 2011, followed by Florida in 2014. Both programs serve students identified as having special educational needs. Arizona has sinceexpanded its program to include students in or assigned to failing public schools, students from the foster care system, as well as children of Active Duty members of the military stationed within the state. Proposed expansions introduced this year would make students being raised by their grandparents, those who live on Indian reservations, and students on public school waiting lists eligible for Arizona ESAs. Gov. Rick Scott has also proposed $5 million in additional funding to expand Florida’s ESA program.

ESA programs in Arizona and Florida are enrolling nearly 2,600 students combined and are helping parents customize their children’s education to degrees few Americans could otherwise afford. Not only are parents more satisfied, students are thriving academically and socially for less than what it costs in a public school setting.

The ability to choose not simply where but how their children are educated results in high parental satisfaction with ESAs, according to follow up studies. Fully 100 percent of participating Arizona parents reported being satisfied with the program, with 71 percent reporting they are “very satisfied.” In contrast, just 43 percent of parents reported any level of satisfaction with their children’s previous public schools.

No wonder this spring at least 22 state legislatures are considering or introducing ESA legislation.

As Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Freidman noted, just because we finance education through government, that does not mean government should be in charge of delivering education. “Education spending will be most effective,” Friedman explained, “if it relies on parental choice and private initiative—the building blocks of success throughout our society.”

Vicki E. Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of the Independent book, Failure.
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