Politico.com recently wrote about a “radical new idea” that is “catching fire across the country.” This idea is Education Savings Accounts. In an article entitled States Weigh Turning Education Funds Over To Parents, Politico writer Stephanie Simon reports:
“A radical new concept in school choice will come up for vote in at least a half-dozen states from Virginia to Oklahoma in the coming months, as lawmakers consider giving hundreds of thousands of parents the freedom to design a custom education for their children — at taxpayer expense.”
Education Savings Accounts are bank accounts controlled by parents that receive state funding. Parents can use these funds to customize their child’s learning through everything from paying for personal tutors to taking online classes to private school tuition or college savings. So far, ESAs only exist in two states – Arizona and Florida.
The Visser’s are one family that have benefited from an ESA. Kathy Visser “receives $27,000 a year from Arizona to educate her 10-year-old son, Jordan. She uses the funds to design an a la carte education tailored just for Jordan, who has cerebral palsy and struggled in traditional schools. His weekly schedule includes sessions with a private reading tutor, science classes at a local museum, piano lessons, swim team fees and therapeutic horseback riding.” You can learn more about Jordan by watching this video:
The article talks about why ESAs are becoming more and more popular:
ESAs have become trendy in part because they suit the modern sensibility of customizing everything from sneakers to playlists, advocates say. Charter schools and voucher programs “were the rotary telephones of our movement” — but ESAs are the iPhones, declared Matthew Ladner, senior policy advisor at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, in a recent blog post.
Still, there are many critics of the ESA program. The article reports that many think it unfair for taxpayers to be forced to fund whatever curriculum a parent chooses. Some are concerned that ESAs create “an unregulated, unaccountable market.” Others are concerned that ESAs will cause public school budgets to dwindle. Even supporters are finding unique challenges: for example, a family tried to use the Florida ESA to subsidize a vacation to Europe. While this vacation request was denied, programs that administer ESA will need to figure out where to draw lines so that funds are put to good use in procuring quality education.
In the end, Education Savings Accounts are designed to empower parents as they make choices regarding their child’s education. While there are unique challenges inherent to any reform within education, this program is built on a rather intuitive idea: we should trust parents to make education choices for their children.
*For more information about trusting parents, click here to read/watch a speech I gave recently on this topic.*