Recently, education savings accounts (ESAs) have come under attacks from opponents of this legislation that would allow qualifying families to access the state education funding to purchase approved education services best suited to the unique needs of their child. Here are the facts about school choice and ESAs:
1. School Choice Improves Academic Outcomes
School choice programs 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 31 of 33 studies show competition from school choice programs improves nearby public schools. ESA programs in Arizona and Mississippi receive 90 percent 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, and online classes. 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 percent 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-percent-performing school districts. These areas tend to have higher poverty rates 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.
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.
For more information and resources about ESAs, visit commonwealthfoundation.org/esa