Stephanie WhittExecutive Vice President
Nobody’s lives have been turned upside more during the COVID-19 pandemic than children. With the constantly changing guidelines, school shutdowns, lack of social interaction, and remote learning, it should be no surprise that students are falling behind like never before, with TCAP scores dropping five percentage points since 2019.
To make matters worse, many school districts are openly defying executive orders and statutes allowing parents to opt their children out of mask mandates. But what are parents to do? They’ve shown up to school board meetings and pleaded for reopening. Yet they are repeatedly ignored because in most cases, they have little say over their child’s education. And unless parents can afford private school, they have little recourse.
Parental choice in education has been a necessary option for a long time for families whose children are stuck in schools that aren’t serving them. Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs, put parents—not the education establishment—back in the driver’s seat of their child’s education. ESAs are the education equivalent of Health Savings Accounts, empowering parents to provide their children with the education that best meets their needs. Studies show that expanding parental choice not only improves education outcomes but also boosts local economies through higher graduation rates and income levels, as well as reduced crime rates.
How It Works
SB1674/HB1671 expands the existing ESA program for parents who want to provide their child with an education outside their zoned public school due to the district’s restrictive COVID policies. Parents would receive approximately $7,700 a year into their savings account, approximately 75% of the BEP funding we already spent on each child. The remaining 25% would remain with the child’s zoned public school.
ESA funds could be used to pay for tuition at a private school, textbooks, tutoring, curriculum, transportation to and from school, extracurricular activity fees at public schools, computer hardware, and education therapy. A portion of unused funds can roll over year after year and can be applied towards the cost of that child’s college education.
Under the bill, children would now be eligible for an ESA if starting this September, the school district they are zoned to attend does not have at least 180 days of in-person classroom instruction due to COVID-19.
Who This Impacts
This past fall, Lauren Herring was excited to finally get her two kids, in 3rd and 5th grade, back in school. They had been virtual since the beginning of the pandemic, and that was not working for her son, who thrived in an in-person environment. When virtual, everything in his demeanor changed. But both her children were forced to remain virtual much longer than expected. Her daughter hadn’t ever met her teachers or half her classmates. As Lauren says, “Public education is supposed to be the great equalizer between the haves and have nots. But this virtual system mess that we’re in right now is just driving a bigger wedge between the two.”
She notes that many families are fortunate to have the financial means to pull their children out of forced virtual schooling and put them in a private school that will allow them to be in person, but many families have no choice.
Robust parental choice will finally put parents in the driver’s seat. If school districts or the unions that often drive their decision-making refuse to listen, then parents could take their money and walk away. Parents should have the ability to take the money we already spend on their child’s education and apply it to the school of their choice, be it their zoned public school, a charter school, a private school, an online school, or a combination of all the above.
Email your lawmakers to show your support for giving parents greater choice and education options!