Educational Choice in a Grandparent’s Words

National School Choice Week, beginning today, is a celebration of opportunity. Each of the educational options in Pennsylvania—private scholarship programs, charter schools, online education, and the ability to homeschool—empower parents to decide exactly how and where their children will learn, grow, and thrive.

Still, there is more work to be done to make a quality, customized education available to all children. Thousands of families are trapped in underperforming—sometimes unsafe—public schools. Others may reside in acceptably performing school districts, but value the benefit of an alternative educational model. What can be done to ensure all children have the opportunity to reach their potential?

Enter education savings accounts (ESAs).

With an ESA, the state deposits funds otherwise earmarked for K-12 education into an account controlled by parents and supervised by the state. These funds may be spent on a variety of services, including but not limited to private school tuition, tutoring, and online programs. 

Pennsylvania’s House Education Committee held a hearing to take a deeper look at ESAs last fall. Check out the full hearing here, but in particular, take a few moments to watch the testimony of Robert Gervinski.

Gervinski, a retired educator of 37 years, worked in in both public and private settings. He was an administrator, a policymaker, and was involved in designing curriculum. But most importantly, he is a grandparent to McKenna.

Four-year-old McKenna loves to dance. She is full of energy and a happy young girl. McKenna was also born with Down syndrome. She requires therapeutic support staff, as well as speech and physical therapy. Watch Gervinski talk about McKenna’s unique educational needs:

Gervinski originally believed McKenna’s educational needs would require her to be separated from her older brother and attend a separate school. But an ESA could change that. It could allow McKenna’s parents to use ESA funds on private school tuition, as well as specialized speech and physical therapy—so that McKenna would attend the same private school as her brother:

In the last clip, Gervinski demonstrates the importance of environment for McKenna. He underscores that a customized ESA would allow her to learn in a comfortable environment and ultimately reach her maximum potential.

The ESA concept is taking root not just in Pennsylvania but across the country. ESAs have been enacted in five states, and bills are being filed in dozens more. From Arkansas to Iowa to Missouri, lawmakers are on the verge of bringing educational choice and opportunity to thousands of families.  

While some states begin by limiting ESAs to students with special needs, the ESA model is one that can, and should, serve all families and all students.

An ESA would open doors to McKenna that were previously closed. What better way to celebrate School Choice Week—and help children like McKenna—than for Pennsylvania to move forward with ESAs?