Research: ESAs Boost Teacher Pay, Create Jobs, and Reduce Poverty

Pennsylvania is among a dozen states pursuing education savings accounts—innovative school choice tools that empower parents to customize their child’s education. ESAs are flexible spending accounts, controlled by parents and administered by the state, which are spent on a combination of approved educational services.

Arizona is home to the nation’s first ESA program, which was originally limited to students with learning disabilities. However, ESAs became so popular with parents that lawmakers gradually expanded program eligibility to include more families. This past April, a bill was passed to make ESAs available to nearly all Arizona students by 2020.

This is a terrific development—and it makes perfect sense. Parental satisfaction is spurring lawmakers to meet growing demand for educational options.

What’s more, new research from Texas—another state advancing school choice legislation—indicates that ESAs can do more than satisfy parents. Scholars from the Texas Public Policy Foundation find universal ESAs have the potential to increase teacher pay, create thousands of new jobs, and even reduce poverty in the Lone Star State.

The authors find that ESAs would make teacher labor markets more competitive, thus boosting take-home pay. Increased student achievement would increase gross domestic product and create more job opportunities throughout the state. And because ESAs would increase high school graduation rates, fewer children would be consigned to a life of poverty. As Michael McShane notes, “One of the clearest, demonstrable links between private school choice programs and education outcomes is the increase in high school graduation rates.”

The reports are worth reading in full. And the findings are particularly relevant for Pennsylvania’s House and Senate Education Committees, which are scheduled to hear testimony about ESAs in Harrisburg next week.

The moral argument for educational choice is irrefutable: every child deserves the chance at a first-class education that fits their individual needs. When you also consider the second-order effects of ESAs, they are nearly impossible to oppose. Every family in Pennsylvania deserves access to such life-changing programs.