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Education Savings Account Represent Parental Choice 2.0

• Dr. Matthew Ladner

The above video from the Alliance for School Choice focuses on Jordan Visser, a student participating in the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) program. The ESA model represents the next step in expanding parental choice so that parents actively manage an education account with multiple but restricted used to educate their child. The next generation of choice programs will move beyond where students learn to select between different education methods.

Jordan, a student with multiple disabilities, now receives an education precisely customized to meet his needs at a lower cost to the taxpayers.  The amount of physical therapy Jordan receives has doubled, his academics have improved, and he is receiving specialized therapy that no public (or private) school was likely to provide.

Everyone wins in this voluntary exchange.  Explaining how this is the case for school districts will require the next two wonky paragraphs. Stick with me here and it will be worth it.

School districts have complained for decades that they do not receive enough funds for children with disabilities. For purposes of illustration, assume that the federal and Arizona governments provided Jordan’s former district a total of $15,000 to provide for his education. Districts have complained that they wind up spending far more than the state and federal funds provided. Assume that they actually spent $25,000 on an education that Jordan and his parents found deeply frustrating. This has been the story told by school district officials and lobbyists, and they have stuck to it for decades.

The district suffers no harm in losing Jordan and the funding associated with him. In fact they now have more resources to use on their remaining students, whether their special needs or general education students.

Most important of all-Jordan benefits having an education custom designed to precisely meet his needs. Under the ESA program, if there is money left over in the account, Jordan’s parents can put some of it in a federal Coverdell Savings Account to earn interest for future higher education expenses.

Arizona and Florida face similar challenges ahead in the immediate future. In both states the size of the K-12 population will greatly expand at the same time that the elderly population reaches an unprecedented scale. There will be more students than the public school system can cope with, and fierce competition between education and health care, young and old, for limited public funding.

Public education systems must therefore become both more effective and more cost-effective, and flexibility and customization will be the key.

About the author

Dr. Matthew Ladner @MatthewLadner

Dr. Matthew Ladner is the Senior Advisor of Policy and Research for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. He previously served as Vice President of Research and Goldwater Institute. Prior to joining Goldwater, Dr. Ladner was director of state projects at the Alliance for School Choice. Dr. Ladner has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform. Most recently, Dr. Ladner authored the groundbreaking, original research Turn and Face the Strain: Age Demographic Change and the Near Future of American Education, outlining the future funding crisis facing America’s K-12 public education funding. He also coauthors the American Legislative Exchange Council's annual Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress and Reform. Dr. Ladner has testified before Congress, the United States Commission of Civil Rights and numerous state legislative committees. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received both a Masters and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. Dr. Ladner is a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for Educational Choice. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona.