Research shows education savings accounts are being used exactly as intended
Recently, reimaginED editor Matt Ladner noted the 10e anniversary of Education Savings Accounts, which debuted in Arizona in the form of the Empowerment Scholarship Account. Over the past decade, research has shown a refreshing truth about the accounts.
In the age of fake news, they’ve proven to be genuine, empowering parents to personalize their child’s education, and that’s exactly what families do.
Data from North Carolina’s two education savings account programs show that a greater proportion of families use their child’s account to purchase more of an educational product or service than those who pay only for one. single item, such as private school tuition.
Sixty-four percent of account holders used an account to personalize their child’s learning experience in the first two years of North Carolina accounts, roughly double the share of families in Arizona that personalized a student’s experience in the first two years of account availability in that state.
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The Kindergarten to Grade 12 Private School Scholarships and Vouchers have offered students across the country the opportunity to attend the school of their choice for more than 20 years, bringing hope to affected children in failing schools. During this period, however, teachers’ unions and other interest groups filed lawsuits to force children back to assigned schools, delaying and in some cases erasing those options.
Education savings accounts are not vouchers, and the courts have recognized the distinguishing feature of the accounts of allowing parents to choose how and where their children learn, rendering inaccurate union accusations that the accounts violate the constitutions of the States.
(Recent court rulings in favor of scholarships in cases such as Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue also gave parents hope against union lawsuits that try to crush students’ learning options.)
Thus, the flexible account arrangements and research findings that parents use these options are important, both because they allow parents to design a learning experience that meets a child’s needs and because the versatility of accounts makes them more likely to withstand legal challenges.
The North Carolina accounts have some notable similarities and differences with other account programs, such as the Florida and Arizona Education Savings Accounts. As with account laws in other states (Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and now Indiana, New Hampshire, and West Virginia), North Carolina state officials deposit part of the funds in a child from the state education formula into a private account which parents use to purchase educational products and services for their children.
Like Florida accounts, North Carolina accounts are available for certain children with special needs. Arizona accounts, the oldest in the United States, are accessible to affected children in failing schools, children living on tribal lands, adopted children, as well as children with special needs and other students. from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Another important similarity that the North Carolina accounts share with these two state account options is that state officials have contracts with private entities to oversee parent transactions. In Florida, most account operations are overseen by private scholarship organizations, while in Arizona lawmakers have hired a payment processing company that works in other areas of public education called ClassWallet.
ClassWallet also manages much of the account activity in North Carolina, including parent purchases.
State education departments are not equipped to handle individual family transactions, and state education agencies such as Arizona’s often restricted parenting options, so groups such as the Goldwater Institute intervene to defend the rights of families under the law.
The outsourcing of account operations since the inception of the North Carolina Education Savings Account programs has saved Tar Heel families the frustration of discovering just how bureaucratic public education agencies can be.
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A unique feature of North Carolina accounts is that families can combine two private scholarship options, disability scholarships and scholarships, with their child’s education savings account. My report for the John Locke Foundation found that most – 225 out of 277 account holders in 2018-19 and 216 out of 304 account holders in 2019-2020 – used a disability grant (a voucher worth up to ‘to $ 8,000 for private school tuition, textbooks and other qualified items) and an account.
Even with access to both the disability grant and the account, 138 participants still used an account to purchase more than one educational item or service.
This research on North Carolina accounts provides families and policy makers with a glimpse into the future of learning. Just last year, lawmakers in Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and West Virginia enacted new account laws.
How will parents use the accounts, lawmakers may ask? If the data is a guide, they’ll use it exactly as intended: to meet the unique needs of their children.