Education savings accounts are gaining new fans, raising the specter for K12 leaders that the school choice movement could siphon more education funds away from the public K12 system.
Parents who withdraw their children from public schools can use these voucher-like education savings accounts, also known as ESAs, to pay tuition at private schools, online schools or for other K12 alternatives such as tutoring. The concept is now becoming increasingly popular with parents and teachers.
Some 60% of parents, including more than two-thirds of Black parents, favor education savings accounts while 59% of teachers now back the approach, according to a new YouGov survey released by yes. every kid., a school choice advocacy organization. One source of support comes from parents who are increasingly frustrated that the quality of their children’s educations is limited by having to attend under-resourced public schools, the organization contends.
“It’s clear that those who spend the most time with America’s children—teachers and parents—believe ESAs can improve and expand learning opportunities for children,” said Craig Hulse, executive director of yes. every kid. “Ahead of the 2023 legislative session, let’s listen to the voices of educators and families, who are hungry for direct access to educational resources that support the unique needs of every child.”
Overall, slightly more than half of the 1,600 Americans polled expressed support for ESAs while about one-third of the respondents described themselves as undecided. Support for ESAs was slightly higher among Democrats (58%) than Republicans (55%), the survey notes. A majority of both parents and teachers who participated in the pool also said major changes are needed to put the U.S. education system on a better path.
Education savings accounts accelerate
The results of the education savings accounts survey only underscore the renewed energy building up behind school choice and vouchers in several state legislatures. More extensive school choice programs have recently been launched in West Virginia, Arizona, Iowa and Utah.
More from DA: Superintendent resignations are piling up as politics pile on K12 schools
Perhaps not surprisingly, new school choice legislation is being pushed in Florida and Texas, where leading elected officials have proposed making all students eligible for publicly funded vouchers that would pay for private education and homeschooling. Texas Gov. Greg Abbot has said the proposal wouldn’t reduce funding for public schools but Michael Lee, the former superintendent of rural Booker ISD, told The Texas Tribune that school choice could lead to an exodus of students from smaller K12 systems.
The remaining students would suffer, he added. “When you lose enrollment, you have less money and have to make adjustments,” Lee, who now serves as the executive director of the Texas Association of Rural Schools, told The Texas Tribune. “The only way you can do that is through personnel cuts.”
Here’s a rundown of the latest school choice activity elsewhere:
- Arkansas: Education Freedom Accounts proposed by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders would offer publicly funded universal school choice to all families by 2025-26.
- Idaho: The “Freedom in Education Savings Accounts” bill was rejected by the state’s senate in late February.
- Kentucky: A school choice organization has proposed enshrining ESAs, called Education Opportunity Accounts, in the state’s constitution. The group turned to a constitutional amendment after legislation that would have created the accounts was rejected by the state’s supreme court.
- Oklahoma: The Oklahoma Education Freedom Act would provide state aid to families to choose their own education providers. A second proposal, the Oklahoma Parent Empowerment Act for Kids, would create a similar program.
- South Carolina: The Education Scholarship Trust Fund would provide funding for low-income students to attend the schools of their choice. The Trust fund has been approved by the state senate and is now being considered by South Carolina’s House of Representatives.
- Wyoming: The Freedom Scholarship Act would create education savings accounts parents could use to send children to private schools and other alternatives outside the public K12 system.