Education Savings Accounts: A Better Choice
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Editor’s Note: With an autistic child, an account like this would have been a lifesaver especially at the elementary school level where a more intensive therapeutic environment would have worked better than the public school. ESA’s are needed especially for parents of special needs children who pay into the system but get little of what they need out of it.

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Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) empower parents to design the best educational experience for their children.

How do they work? Funding otherwise earmarked for K-12 education is deposited into an account controlled by parents and supervised by the state. These funds may be spent on a variety of educational services, including private school tuition, tutoring, online programs, transportation, textbooks, standardized test fees, and therapy for students with disabilities.

ESAs are changing lives for students in need. Consider the story shared by the Goldwater Institute of 4-year-old Elias from Arizona, the first of five states to enact this innovative program.  

When Elias turned 4 months old, his mom, Holland, knew something was wrong. Holland explained he needed to be held constantly, and while most babies do not sleep through the night, Elias’s discomfort was troubling.

After months of research and doctor visits, Holland discovered that Elias had symptoms on the autism spectrum. He would need 20-40 hours per week of individual therapies to help him function each day.

When he was old enough to attend school in Arizona, Holland said that Elias’s educational needs were diverse. Along with autism, he had hyperlexia, a precocious reading ability.

In 2011, Holland and Elias applied for an education savings account. Arizona was the first state to adopt the accounts, and the state deposits public funds in a bank account that Holland used to pay for Elias’s education needs. The accounts allowed Holland to pay for education therapies, school textbooks, and private school tuition.

The accounts’ flexibility has helped Holland find a host of quality services for Elias. Holland said that Elias had an adapted schedule that allowed him to attend school half-time to work on academics, social interaction, and classroom etiquette. The other half of his school week was spent attending speech, occupational, physical, and music therapies that his doctor prescribed.

Unlike vouchers or tax credit scholarships, which can be used only for private school tuition, ESA funds can be spent on multiple educational services. With an ESA, parents are no longer limited by the selection of nearby brick-and-mortar schools. Instead, parents have the freedom to customize the best learning environment for their child.

In Pennsylvania, where the Commonwealth Foundation focuses our efforts, school choice is popular, with upwards of 120,000 charter students and 45,000 tax credit scholarship recipients. But demand exceeds supply for affordable, high-quality educational options. Thousands of Pennsylvania students are stranded on waitlists for charter schools. Tax credit scholarships are limited by the caps on business donations. ESAs are the next step students and families in Pennsylvania—and across the nation—deserve.

More information on ESAs can be found here.  

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