There is buzz under the gold dome about the potential for a bill proposing Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) for Georgia’s students and parents. ESAs have earned the praise of many as the “next generation of school choice.”
Here is a run down of how they work and their potential advantages: Parents who choose not to enroll their children into public schools full time can receive 100% of what the state would have spent on their children at a public school – a change that is revenue neutral for the State and gives freedom to parents. The Department of Education deposits funds directly into a privately managed bank account, which parents or guardians can access through a restricted-use debit card. Child-specific factors – such as disabilities – may determine the amount of money distributed into a family’s ESA. Parents or guardians can then spend the money on private school tuition, online learning curriculum, special education services and therapies, textbooks, and a number of other qualifying education-related services and providers. Furthermore, parents can save unused funds from year to year and roll the funds into a college savings account.
Parents and students can use ESAs to tailor education to their unique learning needs and interests.
This unbundling of educational services can allow for greater innovation and diversity, since it encourages a supply-side response that puts pressure on all facets of the traditional education system to be far more responsive to student needs, which amounts to a true student-centered education agenda. ESAs promote a more market-based education system, creating incentives for producers and providers to try different ways of meeting the needs of students and parents.
Though Education Savings Accounts are still taxpayer funded, the way they are structured makes for a dynamic closer to the one involved in spending your own money on your own children: Parents still insist on the best quality education but have more incentive to find a bargain. ESAs constitute an improvement on traditional school choice programs for several reasons. Perhaps most importantly, parents have a strong incentive to maximize the educational value that their children receive in an ESA, because they are not required to spend it all at one place and in one lump sum.
The best way to enhance accountability and performance is to empower parents to choose the education that works best for their kids.
Two states have already adopted ESA laws – Arizona and Florida – and more are likely to follow in the coming years. These laws hold great potential to expand educational opportunity and improve the entire education system in ways that better and more efficiently meet the needs of children.