Parents are hungry for change. For some, distance learning programs related to the pandemic have revealed what their children are learning — or not learning — in the classroom, and many parents desperately need an alternative. A survey from the educational nonprofit EdChoice revealed that more than two-thirds of Idaho adults feel education is going wrong in their local school district.
Fortunately for parents, the option to choose an education known as an Education Savings Account, or ESA, offers students a personalized education that best serves their unique needs and goals.
ESA services have been gaining momentum over the past decade. Idaho does not offer an ESA, but state legislators can change that by creating a scholarship program that enables every student globally to succeed in academics.
As I explained in a recent article, state-licensed savings accounts that parents can use to fund their children’s education expenses. Parents usually receive a discount card loaded with a certain percentage of government spending for each pupil. They must use the money for educational purposes but can invest the money in a variety of products and services, including the costs of tutoring, private school lessons, educational materials or curricula, and subscriptions to online learning platforms. In many states, unused money is carried forward at the end of the year, allowing parents to save money for their children’s future education expenses.
ESA is important because it refocuses education on students. Schools exist to educate students, so education dollars must follow their intended recipients. Support for student-based funding is growing, as many are beginning to realize that we should fund students, not systems.
ESA is different from school vouchers. Although school vouchers give families the agency to choose the best education for their children, ESA services are more efficient and flexible. School vouchers allow parents to send their children to a private school of their choice, but ESA allows parents to fully customize their child’s education to fit each student’s unique needs. Through ESA, parents can pay for private school tuition and supplement their students’ learning with online learning materials, tutoring sessions, supplementary materials, and other educational services.
Arizona established America’s first ESA program in 2011. Since then, seven other states—Florida, Indiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia—have followed in Arizona’s footsteps.
Of the current eight ESA programs, the West Virginia model is the most expansive. This program, enacted in 2021, “allows eligible parents to receive average government funding per pupil that is already earmarked for their children’s education in a parent-controlled electronic fund to cover educational expenses.” Parents can use this money to pay for individual classes or activities at a public school, tutoring costs, advanced placement exam fees, college prep courses, online learning programs, educational therapies, and more.
93% of students in West Virginia are eligible to participate in the program, and parents receive 100% of the money that the state will allocate to their student if their child attends his or her designated school district. Students are eligible to receive funds if they have been enrolled in a public school for at least 45 days before applying. All families, regardless of income, can apply.
As EdChoice aptly notes,[West Virginia’s] ESA enables families the freedom and flexibility to customize their children’s education.”
Idaho families seek the same empowerment. In fact, nearly three-quarters of those who are parents of schoolchildren in Idaho report that they prefer ESA.
The ESA is universal, available to every student regardless of financial need, disability or any other criteria, empowering families by enabling them to personalize their children’s education. Parents are not limited to choosing one school or program for their children but can use the money to purchase multiple services, providers, or programs. This flexibility allows parents to choose a mix of products and services that best suit each child.
Research shows that many parents use ESA to personalize their children’s education. In Arizona, for example, nearly 30% of parents use ESA services to purchase more than one educational service or product for their children. North Carolina’s results are more conclusive. Data shows that 64% of ESA holders use funds to pay for multiple products or services.
It’s no surprise that one-size-fits-all clothes don’t fit all. One-size-fits-all education doesn’t work either.
Idaho legislators can model future bills after West Virginia’s Broad and Inclusive Education Choice Program. All students, regardless of their economic background, deserve the opportunity to use funding to choose the education that best suits their individual needs.
Note: EdChoice Public Opinion Tracker survey results are valid as of November 2, 2021.