Say hey to the ESA (Updated)

Credit: Drew Hurst/SCAD-Atlanta

Credit: Drew Hurst/SCAD-Atlanta

If you have kids in school, or if you’ve simply paid attention to school-reform debates, you know one common theme is the question of class size. While the evidence doesn’t necessarily bear out the value of small pupil-to-teacher ratios, it seems intuitive enough: How many other desk-warmers can squeeze into the room without taking away from the attention your precious little darling needs and deserves from her teacher?

But we live in a world of scarce resources, including talent. Given the importance of good teachers — which is both intuitive and supported by the evidence — the push for ever-smaller class sizes presents two problems. First, it means hiring more and more teachers, not all of whom will be great at what they do. Second is a moral dilemma as to how many kids should be exposed to our very best teachers. Fifteen at a time? Twenty?

“What about millions?” asks Clint Bolick, vice president of the free-market Goldwater Institute in Arizona.

“We have the technology” to do that, Bolick argued this past fall at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s annual policy briefing (watch his speech here). “Look at … Khan Academy, where kids are going online and learning all kinds of advanced subjects. But we don’t have a public policy that accommodates that.”

Well, we don’t have such a public policy in Georgia. But in Arizona, Bolick and his colleagues developed Education Savings Accounts with the goal of doing just that.

Arizona’s ESA initially was limited to foster children and kids with disabilities. It has since been expanded to cover military families and students in schools given a grade of D or F by the state.

“If you’re an eligible child and leave the public schools,” Bolick explained, “the state deposits 90 percent of what it would have contributed to your education into a savings account. It’s like a Health Savings Account.

“It can be used for any educational purpose. It can be used for private school tuition. But it can also be used for distance learning, it can be used for tutoring, it can be used for computer software. It can be used to purchase discrete classes at public schools or at community colleges.”

But there’s another big benefit, one that gives parents an incentive to be cost-conscious when using ESA funds — and which, in turn, should promote price competition among schools and services seeking those dollars. Any money not spent on k-12 education can be used for college.

“Just think about what this would mean for low-income kids,” Bolick said.

Combined with other tools Georgia already has, such as charter schools and tuition tax-credit scholarships, ESAs could stimulate the innovation needed to ensure a quality education for every child.

“Instead of the state being a monopoly provider of k-12 education, they continue to provide an option,” Bolick said. “But the Education Savings Accounts simply fund and enable education to take place, and allow kids to take advantage of whatever opportunities our market provides.

“When we think about where we stand in the world in terms of our k-12 educational system, I don’t like looking up at countries like Lithuania and Poland, and we cannot afford to do that for much longer.”

UPDATE: A newly released poll by the American Federation for Children finds 63 percent of Georgians would support a program similar to the ESA. Republican primary voters, women, African-Americans and parents with school-age children were most likely to voice support. A plurality or majority of each demographic group listed in the cross-tabs say such a program should be open to all students.

(Note: While I was on vacation, I had three columns in the print edition of the AJC that haven’t appeared on the blog. I’m going to post them here over the next couple of days so that y’all have a chance to read and discuss them and, of course, tell me what I got wrong.)

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Flipping the script on school choice

Reader Comments 0

12 comments
Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

Generally speaking, would you say you favor or oppose the concept of school choice? School choice gives parents the right to use the public dollars set aside for their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which better serves their needs. 

Only 66%? With the question worded thus, I'm just wondering why they didn't get something closer to 90%.

MarkVV
MarkVV

There seem to be two different issues here, which Kyle has failed to separate. One is the Coverdell ESA, which is an educational savings account, to which, according to IRA, any individual (including the beneficiary) can contribute whose modified adjusted gross income for the year is less than $110,000 ($220,000 in the case of a joint return). This is a tool I believe most people support, or would support if properly informed.


A quite different issue, I believe, is the proposal that “the state deposits 90 percent of what it would have contributed to your education into a savings account.” That would be a much more controversial proposal, the ramifications of which might be very detrimental to the education of children.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MarkVV This is not the same thing as the Coverdell ESA, which is a federal program.

Tiberius-Constitutionus
Tiberius-Constitutionus

@Captain-Obvious Or we could fix the school system so it does a better of educating our children, Cap'n O.  What all too many people forget is that BEFORE our kiddies can get good jobs, they need a good education.  We shouldn't be playing tax shenanigames with our childrens' futures.

atlmom
atlmom

@Captain-Obvious but why do people need to see a failing system before something can be done?  shouldn't a parent be allowed to say:  this sucks -- even if the kid is 'passing' -- and pull them out to get the money?

should homeschooling parents be able to just tell a kid to fail?  what does 'fail' mean?  for how long do they need to fail before something can be done?  I see a lot of problems with this.


One is that my local school system refused to test my child so that he wouldn't get the necessary help he needed AND he was denied entrance to a public school because of this disability (when he was more than qualified for said school and should have been a student there).  I didn't have a choice, since our local school wasn't going to give my son what he needed -- except to pull him out.  Where's my money?

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

Unless I'm missing something this is essentially a voucher program but with a GI-Bill style benefit account balance attached. Far too much information missing in this article to say if this is a good idea or not. For example, if targeted only at failing kids then this places the burden of managing the draws and expenditures wisely on those (generally speaking) least likely to be effective at doing so, a situation ripe for predatory vendors and outright fraud as exists with any government benefit program.


Our public education model is very simple: States (taxpayers) have responsibility to provide schools and teachers, parents have responsibility to ensure their kids attend school, kids have responsibility to attend school and demonstrate adequate or better progress. In areas where people are generally responsible citizens this model works. In areas where significant numbers of people are not willing or able to live up to their responsibilities the model breaks down. Frankly, it appears the ESA program would face similar issues.

atlmom
atlmom

@DawgDadII but none of that is really happening and we aren't educating our kids.  

IReportYouWhine#1
IReportYouWhine#1

Excellent idea, of course the teacher's unions will never allow such a thing. Their needs come before the kids do.

EdUktr
EdUktr

To Democrats, schooling is about pumping up teachers' union revenues. Not about kids. Google "NEA" and "contributions" to see where union money goes. Georgia Association of Educators members pay an extra $200 per year as members of their national union bankrolling Democrats and ultra-liberal causes nationwide.

And trying to ensure education reform doesn't happen. In unionized states more charter schools equals fewer union teachers.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

"But we live in a world of scarce resources, including talent."

And why is this Kyle? Lack of training new teachers? Lack of managing assets like teachers? Budget cuts? Lack of discipline in schools? Lack of setting up systems for responsibilities and  outcomes? Requirements and expectations? 


We don't need any regulations! We don't need any research and development! Let's have more tax cuts for businesses so they can complain that there isn't the right workforce out there!