Some of Louisiana’s greatest innovations have emerged in the wake of natural disasters. Now, as we work through reopening schools, we have a new opportunity to think outside the box and solve one of our most urgent issues: empowering parents with options to choose an education that best fits their children’s individual needs. Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) have long been considered major innovations in education funding in states across the nation, and now is the time to utilize them in Louisiana.
A Time to Act
Students across the state are heading back to school after a six month break due to COVID-19, but unfortunately, not all students are heading back into the classrooms. Increasingly, school systems have changed their reopening plans to start virtually until after the Labor Day holiday. While it’s understandably to act out of an abundance of caution for students and teachers, many rural and suburban students are being left behind due to lack of access to the internet connections and devices needed for virtual learning.
Additionally, some parents are uncomfortable sending their children back to the classroom and may want to find alternate education options. One of the major barriers that stand in the way of providing families a choice in their educational journey is money. This is why COVID-19 is contributing to the growing achievement gap between affluent and working-class families. Those with the means to afford tutoring, private education, and in some cases, innovative programs like pod schools are taking advantage of the choice they have while working-class families are at the mercy of their local school systems.
Emergency ESAs are a solution to this problem. By creating Emergency ESAs, we can empower parents to purchase WIFI hotspots, hire tutors, and explore many other innovative options for educating their kids.
What Are Education Savings Accounts?
ESAs are far from a new concept. Arizona was the first state to implement them in 2011, and the successes achieved there led Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and North Carolina to adopt the model. ESAs largely work like this: each family receives a portion of Louisiana’s per pupil allocation for each student in their household. That money would be placed in restricted use “savings accounts” that parents could then spend on their student’s education. Spending options would include tutors, online courses, curriculum and education services, special education services, and in some states, even private school tuition.
Louisiana currently spends more than $12,000 per student each year. If our state implemented a 90 percent allocation of those funds, each student would receive more than $10,000 for their education expenses.
Implementing an Emergency ESA would be a bold course of action for the Louisiana legislature, and that’s exactly what our state’s children need right now. COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to test out how the program would work here. Governors in states like South Carolina, Florida, and Oklahoma have used their discretionary CARES Act dollars to implement one-time ESAs and scholarship programs for working class and low-income families. This will allow them to choose the school that best fits their student’s needs and get the students of their states back to learning.
Gov. John Bel Edwards would be wise to follow these other states’ examples and direct any future federal education aid directly into the hands of parents. Giving parents options to select how their children can best continue receiving instruction is in the best interest of our students and state. To learn more about this and the Pelican Institute’s other education reform solutions, visit pelicaninstitute.org/aschoolthatfits.