Education Savings Accounts (ESA) empower parents to design the best educational experience for their children.
Can Pennsylvania do better when it comes to educating our children? Absolutely. But playing “myths for money” will never lead to real solutions for families and students.
Pennsylvania taxpayers shoulder the 15th highest state and local tax burden in the country. Consequently, the Keystone State has seen an exodus of working people. Unsustainable growth in state government spending has fueled this high (and growing) tax burden.
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Late on Friday afternoon, Gov. Tom Wolf quietly announced the fiscal code will become law without his signature. This significant development closes the door on a tumultuous year of state budget politics—and represents an important victory for public and private school children.
Just last month Wolf opted to veto the fiscal code, which included a fair funding formula for education spending, language authorizing businesses to receive tax credits for their donations to private school scholarship organizations, and state funding reimbursing school districts for construction and renovation costs.
Lawmakers responded to the governor's veto by passing a stripped-down version of the fiscal code—this time with strong bipartisan support and veto-proof majorities. Apparently Wolf saw the writing on the wall and decided to refrain from yet another veto.
Thanks to passage of the fiscal code, education spending above 2014-15 levels will be distributed through a rational formula that accounts for student enrollment. This formula includes recommendations presented by CF in testimony to the Basic Education Funding Commission.
Ideally, the formula would apply to the entire Basic Education line item—not only the new education spending—but the fiscal code remains a step in the right direction. Certainly, the formula is an improvement over Wolf’s preferred funding scheme which funneled millions to Philadelphia, Chester-Upland, and Wilkinsburg at the expense of 423 other districts.
Further, the finalized fiscal code allows businesses that made donations to the state’s popular scholarship tax credit programs to utilize their tax credits in either 2015 or 2016. Recall that last year the Wolf administration put a freeze on the scholarship programs—claiming student hostages and causing confusion for participating businesses. The technical amendment in the code will reduce administrative headaches for businesses and allow more students to receive scholarships.
A no-tax increase state budget, combined with a fiscal code that protects students, is a crucial victory for families and businesses in the commonwealth.
Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) empower parents to personalize the academic experience for their children, as CF explains in a recent policy brief. But ESAs are about more than school choice.
They are changing lives for families in need.
ESAs have only existed for a short time—enacted in 2011 in Arizona and 2014 in Florida. But the stories of children served—and saved—by these flexible spending accounts are growing by the dozens.
Jordan Visser, a nine-year-old in Arizona diagnosed with cerebral palsy and dyslexia, was one of the first children to benefit from an ESA. Thanks to his ESA, Jordan receives more individual time with a reading teacher for the visually impaired, as well as his physical therapist:
When Katie Swingle’s son, Gregory, was eighteen months old, doctors worried that Gregory’s autism would prevent him from being able to speak. But thanks to Florida’s ESA program, seven-year-old Gregory is not only speaking, he’s writing in cursive. Watch Gregory’s mother describe the impact of ESAs on her family:
Consider Max Ashton, an eighteen-year-old in Arizona born legally blind, who used the ESA funding for specialized education and college tuition:
Eighteen-year-old Max Ashton is an ESA recipient in Arizona. Max is an exceedingly bright and ambitious young man. He was also born legally blind and has additional needs in school. This is why, when given the option to use an ESA in 2011, Max’s parents jumped at the chance. Marc Ashton, Max’s father, said of the decision:
A blind student in Arizona gets about $21,000 dollars per year to educate that student. We took 90 percent of that, paid for Max to get the best education in Arizona—the best education in Arizona—plus all his Braille, all his technology, and then there was still money left over—still money left over—to put toward his college [tuition]. And so he is going to be able to go on to Loyola Marymount University…and do extremely well, because we were able to save money even sending him to the best school in Arizona over what the state would normally pay for.
ESAs were also life-changing for Kasey Locke, a six-year-old diagnosed with autism who was not best-served by the local public school:
Rebecca Locke was frustrated with her daughter Kasey’s academic progress. Six-year-old Kasey is autistic, and when she started kindergarten at the local public school, her parents worked with school officials to incorporate a new learning method, applied behavioral analysis (ABA), into Kasey’s school work. “We were looking for different modes of treatment for her and came upon applied behavioral analysis, and that’s the only treatment that’s been empirically shown to cause improvement.”
But her parents were frustrated because Kasey’s school couldn’t incorporate ABA methods into her full school day. It really wasn’t the school’s focus to use this type of treatment. “We did look into private schooling, but there was no way we could financially reach that.”
Then, when Arizona passed educational savings accounts into law, “it was almost too good to be true” for the Lockes. With an education savings account, Kasey’s portion of state education funding would be deposited into an account her parents could use for any educational services.
The education savings account has been life-changing for Kasey, who now attends Chrysalis Academy, a private school that incorporates ABA tools. Recently, Kasey visited her speech therapist, who was “amazed” with Kasey’s progress. Her parents say the education savings account has been “a huge success for us.”
The experiences of Jordan, Gregory, Max, and Kasey must be replicated for all Pennsylvania families seeking the same type of educational opportunity. Everyone deserves access to this life-changing program.
Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) empower parents to design the best educational experience for their children.
How do they work? Funding otherwise earmarked for K-12 education is deposited into an account controlled by parents and supervised by the state. These funds may be spent on a variety of educational services, including private school tuition, tutoring, online programs, transportation, textbooks, standardized test fees, and therapy for students with disabilities.
ESAs are changing lives for students in need. Consider the story of 4-year-old Elias from Arizona, the first of five states to enact this innovative program.
When Elias turned 4 months old, his mom, Holland, knew something was wrong. Holland explained he needed to be held constantly, and while most babies do not sleep through the night, Elias’s discomfort was troubling.
After months of research and doctor visits, Holland discovered that Elias had symptoms on the autism spectrum. He would need 20-40 hours per week of individual therapies to help him function each day.
When he was old enough to attend school in Arizona, Holland said that Elias’s educational needs were diverse. Along with autism, he had hyperlexia, a precocious reading ability.
In 2011, Holland and Elias applied for an education savings account. Arizona was the first state to adopt the accounts, and the state deposits public funds in a bank account that Holland used to pay for Elias’s education needs. The accounts allowed Holland to pay for education therapies, school textbooks, and private school tuition.
The accounts’ flexibility has helped Holland find a host of quality services for Elias. Holland said that Elias had an adapted schedule that allowed him to attend school half-time to work on academics, social interaction, and classroom etiquette. The other half of his school week was spent attending speech, occupational, physical, and music therapies that his doctor prescribed.
Unlike vouchers or tax credit scholarships, which can be used only for private school tuition, ESA funds can be spent on multiple educational services. With an ESA, parents are no longer limited by the selection of nearby brick-and-mortar schools. Instead, parents have the freedom to customize the best learning environment for their child.
School choice is popular in the commonwealth, with upwards of 120,000 charter students and 45,000 tax credit scholarship recipients. But demand exceeds supply for affordable, high-quality educational options. Thousands of Pennsylvania students are stranded on waitlists for charter schools. Tax credit scholarships are limited by the caps on business donations. ESAs are the next step Pennsylvania students and families deserve.
Read more about ESAs in CF’s most recent policy brief.