Ignore Scare Tactics; ESAs Would Benefit All Students

On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee advanced Senate Bill 2, which would create Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) for students in the lowest performing 15 percent of public schools. ESAs are state funded accounts which allow families to customize their child’s education, using those funds for private school tuition, and a number of other educational services. Read more on ESAs here.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association has claimed that SB 2 would “take” $500 million from school districts. But this would only happen if more than 80,000 students chose to leave their assigned district school.


It implies students are desperate to leave low-performing schools and find a better option, and that the union leaders want to stop them.

That usage rate is astronomical. It implies students are desperate to leave low-performing schools and find a better option—and that the union leaders want to stop them, leaving students trapped in the low-performing school assigned by their zip code.

What the union also fails to note is that these lowest performing 15 percent of schools would then have dramatically smaller class sizes, and be able to increase spending per student substantially.

ESAs under SB 2 would provide about $6,200 for a student (higher for students with special needs), for those leaving public schools. This is far below the $17,735 that public schools spend per studentand allows schools to invest more in the students who remain.

In fact, if 30 percent of students leave—as the PSEA suggests—those low-performing schools would be able to increase their spending per student to a whopping $23,991 per student, as the table below shows. That’s far more than any other state in the nation.

It’s clear that the educational industrial complex, led by union leaders, is working to maintain the status quo—putting money ahead of students’ best interests. Even if their extraordinary cost estimate is right—though it is several times the usage rate of ESAs in other states—it is still only a drop in the bucket.

Indeed, a “$500 million cost” would reduce school district spending from $30.5 billion to $30 billion—again, while serving 80,000 fewer students. And this scare tactic number doesn’t even come close to what school districts are hoarding in reserves—a whopping $4.5 billion.  

It's time to ignore these scare tactics, and provide students with the educational opportunity they need by putting parents back in charge.