| June 26, 2013

Parental choice continues to expand

Question for Oklahoma parents: How would you like to have, say, $6,800 per year to spend on your child’s education?

My guess is that Oklahomans would favor this idea by a margin of two-to-one, as do our neighbors to the south. Texans were recently asked:

An education savings account (ESA) allows parents to withdraw their child from a public district or charter school and receive a payment into a government-authorized savings account with restricted but multiple uses. Parents can then use these funds to pay for private school tuition, virtual education programs, private tutoring, or saving for future college expenses. In general, do you favor or oppose this kind of savings-account system?

A full 61 percent of registered voters in Texas favor the idea, while only 29 percent oppose. In Arizona, meanwhile, ESAs are already a reality. As Jonathan Butcher of the Goldwater Institute explains,

With an education savings account, parents can use part of the money that otherwise would have been spent on a student in a traditional public school to pay for a variety of costs, including private school tuition, tutoring, educational therapy, and materials. Conceived of by the Goldwater Institute nearly a decade ago, education savings accounts were first passed by the Legislature in 2011 for special-needs children. Last year the program was expanded to children adopted out of the state foster system, children of active-duty military parents, and children in “D” and “F” failing schools.

And thanks to a bill signed last week by Gov. Jan Brewer, the program is expanding again. The new law expands the ESA program to children entering kindergarten and increases funding for the accounts (the scholarship will now be equal to 90 percent of the amount the state would spend if the child attended a charter school). The best estimate I’ve seen so far puts the average scholarship at around $6,800. More than 216,000 Arizona families are now eligible for ESAs.

An official with the Arizona Department of Education recently told scholar Matthew Ladner that parents literally weep in expressing the depth of their gratitude for ESAs. (Watch the brief video below and you’ll begin to understand why.)

School-choice litigator Clint Bolick correctly describes our current public-school system as a “hidebound, bureaucratic, expensive, top-down, one-size-fits-all, command-and-control, inefficient, reform-resistant, administratively bloated, special-interest manipulated, obsolete, impersonal bricks-and-mortar system that represents the most disastrous failure of central planning west of Communist China and south of the United States Postal Service.”

He’s right, but he believes ESAs will revolutionize K-12 education. It’s time to bring them to Oklahoma — and make them available to all children.

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