Some Clarity on Education Savings Accounts

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) continues to repeat common misconceptions about Education Savings Account (ESA) programs. Here are six facts to dispel their fallacies.

1. School Choice Improves Academic Outcomes

School choice programs overall improve academic outcomes, and parents highly approve of ESA programs where they’ve been adopted. Fourteen of eighteen empirical studies show positive effects for school choice participants, while thirty-one of thirty-three studies show competition from school choice programs improves nearby public schools. ESA programs in Arizona and Mississippi receive 90% satisfaction rates from parents.

2. ESAs Are a More Efficient Way to Fund Kids

ESA funding, as proposed under SB 2, follows the child. Participating students receive a portion of state per-pupil spending; no local education dollars go to ESAs. Rather than take money away from local schools, ESAs reduce a school's enrollment without reducing local funding. By educating students for a fraction of the cost of public schools, ESAs offer tremendous savings to Pennsylvania taxpayers.

3. ESAs ≠ Vouchers

ESAs are not vouchers. Pennsylvania does not have a voucher program nor are there any voucher legislative proposals on the table. Supervised by the State Treasury Department, parents of eligible students receive a portion of their budgeted per-student state funding, which can be used at their discretion for various approved educational services, including therapy, tutoring, online classes, among others. A voucher, on the other hand, can only be used at a private school.

4. Strict Accountability Measures Accompany ESAs

ESAs offer accountability, with the State Treasury department having the authority to conduct account audits as necessary. Fraudulent spending would be subject to numerous penalties, including frozen or closed accounts, criminal prosecution by the Attorney General, fines up to 300% of the ESA amount, or disqualification of the offender from future program participation.

5. ESAs Offer New Alternatives for Special Needs Students

ESA funds can be used “for special instruction or special services provided to the child.” These include, but are not limited to occupational, physical, speech and behavioral therapies. Under an ESA model, parents of students with special needs would have the freedom to choose the best combination for their child.

6. ESAs Can Equalize Education Opportunity

ESAs would offer new education opportunities to children from the bottom 15% performing school districts. These areas tend to have higher poverty and high rates of assault and theft. For many, ESAs represent their only opportunity for a better academic environment and their best chance at a better life.

School boards serve a vital function in local education, and their voices should be heard. Unfortunately, the PSBA continues to cloud the discussion with misinformation. As Sen. John DiSanto, sponsor of Senate Bill 2, told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “Their knee-jerk opposition to any proposals that increase competition and begin to bring accountability to education continues to hold back Pennsylvania students trying to achieve their potential.”

Students, parents, and local boards of education need straight, unvarnished facts if they are to make informed decisions. The truth is ESAs empower parents to choose the best educational options for their children. That should be the goal of all education advocates.