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'Fund Students, Not Systems' with Universal School Choice

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Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

With education reform taking center stage, states are pushing school choice reforms during the annual National School Choice Week happening this week.

The appetite for school choice is there. Why? There's a healthy and growing distrust among parents with entrusting corrupt teachers' unions (who selfishly put themselves ahead of students) with their kids– a change resulting from the COVID pandemic. School curriculums have strayed away from writing, reading, and arithmetic for critical race theory (CRT), America-bashing, and disturbing sexually-explicit content. Adding insult to injury, school administrators suppressed National Merit Scholar announcements, especially notices here in Northern Virginia, under the guise of not “offending” their classmates. This blatant act is being treated as a civil rights violation. As it should. 

Public schools held hostage by support teachers unions are in serious need of competition. Education savings accounts (ESAs) are a surefire way to remove Randi Weingarten and her ilk’s grip over students.

What are Education Savings Accounts (ESAs)? 

With ESAs catching on, there’s a lot of confusion about them – namely disinformation. Powerful teacher's unions and corresponding special interests groups, naturally, are hellbent on maintaining their dominance over students and keeping them trapped in failing low-performing schools. 

That’s why ESAs are viewed as a superior alternative to what’s currently being offered by Big Education.

Ed Choice defines ESAs as the following: “Education savings accounts (ESAs) allow parents to withdraw their children from public district or charter schools and receive a deposit of public funds into government-authorized savings accounts with restricted, but multiple, uses. Those funds—which families generally access via an online platform—can cover private school tuition and fees, online learning programs, private tutoring, community college costs, higher education expenses, and other approved customized learning services and materials. Some ESAs, but not all, even allow students to use their funds to pay for a combination of public school courses and private services.”

What’s wrong with education dollars following the student? Nothing–that’s the way it should be. But Big Education puts their interests ahead of students and expects taxpayers to ceaselessly fund their charade without accountability. Not anymore. School choice could rein in this long-standing abuse.

Which States Have Successfully Implemented ESAs? 

Two states–Arizona and West Virginia– activated ESA programs in 2022.

The Grand Canyon State became the first state in the Union to adopt “universal school choice” last year. Arizona’s program, dubbed the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA), is available to all Arizona school-age children (as of September 2022). For the 2022-2023 school year, eligible participants will receive approximately $7,000 for the ESA based on “90 percent of the state’s per-student base funding.”

Previously, school choice offerings were limited to “disabled students, those in failing schools, and other specific circumstances.” Since going into effect last September, it has serviced nearly 46,000 students as of this writing. 

Moving out East, West Virginia has the Hope Scholarship. And despite massive support for the program, it faced several high-profile court challenges. Ultimately, the state Supreme Court determined it was legal and could proceed last fall.

The program is available to 93% of school-aged children in the Mountaineer State. In contrast with Arizona’s ESA program, Hope Scholarships “are equal to 100 percent of the prior year’s statewide average net state aid allotted per pupil based on net enrollment adjusted for state aid purposes (about $4,600 in 2020–21), which is about 38 percent the value of public school per-student spending.” A bonus: unused funds from this school year can be carried over to the 2023-2024 school year. 

States Mulling ESA Bills in 2023

There are already several states mulling universal school choice, namely to establish ESA programs, this legislative session. 

Utah is expected to create its answer– Utah Fits All Scholarship Program–this session with House Bill 215. If passed–there’s a high likelihood it will– HB 215 will award $8,000 to each eligible student representing 57% of the Beehive State’s per-pupil spending. And it also increases teacher pay. 

It recently passed by a wide margin in the Utah House of Representatives and is expected to make its way to the State Senate and Governor Spencer Cox’s desk for signing. 

Florida, a school choice-friendly state, is expected to expand its ESA program this session, as well. House Bill 1 was recently introduced to expand the Sunshine State’s ESA program: the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program. 

And while the math is more difficult in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earl-Sears (formerly a Virginia Board of Education member) and Delegate Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) are determined to get their ESA bill, HB 1508, passed in both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly. If created, the Virginia Education Success Account Program. It would give individual Virginia school-aged kids about $6,300 annually to apply toward their schooling. But Democrat resistance in the State Senate, sadly, will doom these prospects. 

Conclusion

Support for school choice, regardless of geography or political party, continues to rise in the U.S. And that makes corrupt teachers' unions and their bosses squirm. They know their days of monopolizing education are numbered.  

As American Federation for Children senior fellow Corey DeAngelis aptly retorts: it’s time to fund students and not systems. 

Will more states buck Big Education and adopt school choice–especially ESAs? Let’s hope they do.

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