By Christine Cooke
Each student has unique educational needs. Students, parents and teachers know this, but our school system doesn’t always reflect it. Wouldn’t it be nice if parents could customize education to fit the unique needs of each student? Starting in 2011, some states have implemented a funding mechanism to help customize education—these are called education savings accounts.
Education savings accounts are publicly funded accounts that parents can access in order to pay for a variety of educational choices. For instance, based on the needs or interest of their child, parents can use the funds to pay for tutoring, online learning options, special needs therapy, private school tuition, or homeschooling curriculum. Many ESA programs even allow funds to roll over for college expenses. Instead of all students receiving the same modes and methods of learning in a central location, they can find services best fitted to them individually. Education ought to be first about the academic needs of students. Having this kind of flexibility helps to meet that objective.
Depending on the state, ESAs may cover certain categories of students like those in foster care, children of active military personnel, or students with disabilities. In Nevada, all students are eligible for the program. In a number of states that have adopted ESAs, the account is funded with only 90 percent of the money that the state allocates for each student.
Here are some interesting statistics reported in 2013 about Arizona parents using ESAs:
- 71 percent of parents reported being “highly satisfied” with their account.
- Nearly 20 percent of parents reported being “satisfied.”
- 10 percent reported of parents being “somewhat satisfied.”
- No parent responded as neutral or dissatisfied with the accounts.
Another 2013 report found the following statistics:
- 34 percent of parents using the ESA in Arizona purchased multiple learning services to customize their children’s education in the first year of the program.
- Parents saved 43 percent of ESA funds for future education expenses.
Utahns are some of the greatest advocates for parental involvement in education. We understand the centrality of families and the power of self-determination. The nation has only begun to tap into the benefits of parent-guided, educational choice, but support is growing. Utah is a known leader in the areas of economy and family culture. Let’s do the same in education.
Christine Cooke, J.D., is education policy analyst for Sutherland Institute.