Education savings accounts are a new, groundbreaking effort to provide more educational opportunities to students throughout the country.
These are private savings accounts that parents can control and use to pay for their children’s educational expenses.
How it works: The state deposits a portion of the money it would have otherwise spent on the child’s education into the account, which parents can then use for tuition at any private school, for educational materials, tutoring, online classes, and more.
Naturally, the programs establish safeguards to ensure the money is spent on education, not other items.
Education savings accounts represent a paradigm shift in the way Americans access public education. Currently, the focus is on public school systems, not children. Tax dollars are sent to school districts based primarily on where children live, regardless of whether the students are actually receiving a quality education.
In this paradigm, failure to properly educate students is often rewarded with more money, despite a lack of evidence that more money improves failing schools.
Education savings accounts disrupt that flawed system by putting money in the hands of parents and students instead of districts. The potential benefits are enormous.
First, education savings accounts will inject competition in the education market.
When providers are required to compete for parents’ education funds, they will be forced to be responsive to parent and student needs.
But the current system is a major roadblock to competition. Parents are forced to pay for the local district school, which makes it harder to afford alternatives such as private school or homeschooling.
For the poor, who are often trapped in the worst schools, this problem is felt even more sharply.
This will begin to change, though, when schools see that parents have alternatives. They will work harder to become the school of choice for local parents.
Education savings accounts will also bring diversity to education.
Our current public school system is essentially modeled after factories in the 1800s: Children are processed through each grade, grouped by age, and are given a certificate of completion (diploma) at the end.
Unfortunately, this one-size-fits-all model of schooling too often fails to produce the skills required in today’s economy or prepare students to achieve their career and life goals. Education savings accounts will enable innovators to offer parents unique educational options that meet the diverse needs of their children.
Furthermore, education savings accounts will empower parents.
Today, most parents must send their children to the district school in the neighborhood in which they can afford a home. If they aren’t satisfied with the local district school, and if they can’t afford to pay both their taxes to support the district school and private school tuition, there are few, if any, alternatives.
Education savings accounts promote parental empowerment and involvement in education by giving them the power of choice.
Moreover, research suggests that parents who exercise choice tend to be more actively engaged in their children’s educational experience.
Finally, education savings accounts provide additional fiscal benefits to participants.
After adjusting for inflation, spending per pupil in U.S. public schools has nearly tripled in real terms since 1970. Despite this massive increase in spending, our students trail behind their international peers in math and reading.
Government officials tell us that more money will improve our schools, but this has not proven to be true. Why should parents and taxpayers be forced to send their dollars to institutions that are not meeting the needs of their children—in increasing amounts—year after year?
Moreover, since unused account funds can roll over for future education expenses, parents will seek to maximize efficiency, finding services and options that meet their children’s needs at a competitive price.
Although education savings accounts may not solve every single problem facing modern education, they will go a long way toward increasing competition and diversity of schooling options, and importantly, empowering parents.