Revolutionizing education in Tennessee through ESAs
BY RON SHULTIS
Creating and implementing a statewide universal Education Savings Account (ESA) program will empower parents to create the custom education experience best suited for their child, improve education outcomes through enhanced competition for educational dollars, and help revitalize economically distressed areas by reducing the need to move based on school district geographies.
Politicians draw lines zoning children for particular schools based on zip codes, a system used to deliver the mail. This results in a geographic sorting with young and wealthier families often moving to certain school districts once children reach school age or sending their kids to private schools. This leaves children—usually from lower and middle-income families due to job mobility or financial constraints—incapable of leaving, stuck in ever-depleting school districts or schools that may not serve the particular needs of that unique child. Meanwhile, even if they adequately serve the majority of children, public schools have little incentive to innovate or improve to meet the needs of all children due to a consistent steady stream of children and tax dollars, regardless of their performance.
What it means in practice:
Operating similarly to Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), ESAs give participating families a portion of the tax-dollars paid towards education into an account with a debit card that can only be spent on qualified education expenditures. More flexible than traditional voucher programs, ESA funds can be used to create a truly customized education experience including tutoring, speech and other education therapy, private school tuition, homeschool curriculum and supplies, and education technology.
Additionally, ESA funds not used can be rolled over and used to help pay for college once the child graduates. Meanwhile, public schools retain a portion of the funding connected for that child without any of the associated costs, which creates an incentive to provide a better education experience by competing for more tax dollars.
Over time ESAs can encourage economic revitalization in economically distressed areas. Families with young children, who are often willing to live in more distressed areas due to lower costs of living, will feel less pressure to relocate once their children meet school age in search of better performing school districts.. As more families remain in distressed areas, their economic impact remains and pours into those areas, while their children are still able to benefit from better education opportunities.,
Why we are working on this issue:
In an era when nearly every aspect of our lives is customizable through a variety of choices and options and where every child is unique and therefore has unique learning needs and gifts, why should the majority of parents be effectively limited to one educational choice for their child? A good education is one of the few equalizers in society, with the ability to help people lift out of—and stay out of—poverty and climb the ladder of opportunity. ESAs provide parents the opportunity to design the best education experience for their unique child—an experience they may not have the resources to provide otherwise. Children are given the opportunity to pursue the education they deserve, regardless if that setting is in a public, private, charter, or home school.