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Education Savings Accounts: The Future of School Choice Has Arrived

June 20, 2017

Although the idea has been around since the 1990s, education savings accounts (ESAs) are attracting increasing interest among school choice advocates and legislators who want every child to have a quality education.

Smiling students entering a school bus.

(updated July 21, 2017)

A 2012 report that helped popularize the program suggested ESAs are “the way of the future.” That assessment has turned out to be prescient.

The Heartland Institute has advocated ESAs since 1992, when in a competition organized by the New American Schools Development Corporation we submitted a plan that included “Individual Education Accounts” for a neighborhood in Chicago which could be used by parents to pay for private school tuition, tutors, curriculum coordinators, and other educational service providers. 

Twenty-five years later, in a new Heartland Policy Brief, Policy Analyst Tim Benson discusses how universal ESA programs offer the most comprehensive range of educational choices to parents; describes the five ESA programs currently in operation; and reviews possible state-level constitutional challenges to ESA programs.

Benson concludes,

ESA programs are not a silver-bullet solution to every problem plaguing the nation’s school system, but they certainly allow families much greater opportunities to meet each child’s unique education needs. The goal of public education today and in the years to come should be to allow all parents to choose which schools their children attend, require every school to compete for every student who walks through its doors, and make sure every child has the opportunity to attend a quality school.

Tim Benson joined The Heartland Institute in September 2015 as a policy analyst in the Government Relations Department. @HeartlandGR