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Research & Commentary: Education Savings Accounts More Popular Than Ever with Parents

October 31, 2019

77 Percent In Favor Of Education Savings Accounts

In October, EdChoice released the results of its seventh annual Schooling in America survey, conducted in partnership with Braun Research, Inc. The survey questioned 1,810 adults across the country, including 601 current public-school teachers, about their views on K–12 education issues.

The survey found 56 percent of Americans believe K–12 education in the United States is headed in the wrong direction, while less than a third of parents said they would choose a neighborhood public school as their first choice for their child’s education. This is especially notable when you consider 82 percent of all children in the United States attend a public school. Only 47 percent of current public-school teachers answered that a traditional public school would be the first choice for their own children.

On the other hand, 77 percent favor education savings accounts (ESA), up 3 percentage points from 2018. The 77 percent ESA approval rate is the highest yet in the history of the survey.

With an ESA, state education funds allocated for a child are placed in a parent-controlled savings account. Parents then use a state-provided debit card to access the funds to pay for resources that support their child’s unique educational program, such as tuition at a private or parochial school, tutoring, online classes, transportation, specialized therapies, textbooks, and even college courses while still in high school. Typically, unused ESA funds may be rolled over from year to year and can be saved to pay for future college expenses.

According to the survey, support for ESAs is 80 percent among millennials, 79 percent among Generation Z, 78 percent for those with incomes less than $40,000 a year, 78 percent for blacks, 79 percent for Hispanics, 78 percent among self-identified Democrats, and 77 percent among independents. Furthermore, 78 percent of public-school teachers surveyed support ESA programs. Another 63 percent of adults surveyed support voucher programs and 68 percent support tax-credit scholarships.

These results are mirrored in the American Federation for Children’s latest annual National School Choice Poll, which shows 78 percent support for ESA programs from likely voters in the 2020 election. Support for ESAs in this poll is 84 percent among millennials, 86 percent from blacks, 84 percent from Hispanics, 85 percent from Republicans, 78 percent from independents, and 73 percent from Democrats.

The broad support for these programs is not surprising, as copious empirical research on voucher programs, ESAs, and tax-credit scholarships finds these programs offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances. Moreover, these programs improve access to schools that deliver quality education inexpensively. Additionally, these programs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.

Students at private schools are less likely than their public school peers to experience problems such as alcohol abuse, bullying, drug use, fighting, gang activity, racial tension, theft, vandalism, and weapon-based threats. Furthermore, access to school choice programs may reduce potential for criminal behavior.

The school a child attends should not be determined solely by his or her ZIP code. However, this is currently the case for almost all American children. Additionally, children should not be forced to attend a public school their parents believe is failing to properly educate them or to keep them safe.

The goal of public education in the United States should be to enable all parents, no matter their income level, to choose which schools their children attend. Public schools should not hold a monopoly on education. By implementing school choice programs, we can make sure every child has the opportunity to attend a quality school.

The following documents can provide more information about ESAs and parental choice in education.

2019 Schooling in America Survey: Public Opinion on K–12 Education, Busing, Technology, and School Choice
https://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/2019-9-Schooling-in-America-by-Paul-Diperna-Andrew-Catt-and-Michael-Shaw-1.pdf
This annual survey from EdChoice reports polling results based on a nationally representative sample of the general public, with more robust samples of parents, current public school teachers, Millennials and Generation Z than in previous editions. The survey asks  standard questions about schooling experiences and educational choice reforms, as well as hot-button K–12 subjects that seem to polarize lawmakers and advocates, including inter-district busing, teacher protests and children’s use of technology.

The 123s of School Choice
https://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/123s-of-School-Choice.pdf
This report from EdChoice is an in-depth review of the available research on private school choice programs in America. Areas of study include: private school choice program participant test scores, program participant attainment, parent satisfaction, public school students’ test scores, civic values and practices, racial/ethnic integration and fiscal effects.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
http://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/A-Win-Win-Solution-The-Empirical-Evidence-on-School-Choice.pdf
This paper by EdChoice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

Protecting Students with Child Safety Accounts
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/protecting-students-with-child-safety-accounts
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Vicki Alger, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and research fellow at the Independent Institute, and Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson detail the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and assault taking place in America’s public schools and the difficulties for parents in having their child moved from a school that is unsafe for them. Alger and Benson propose a Child Safety Account program, which would allow parents to immediately have their child moved to a safe school – private, parochial, or pub­lic – as soon as parents feel the public school their child is currently attending is too dangerous to their child’s physical or emotion­al health.

The Public Benefit of Private Schooling: Test Scores Rise When There Is More of It
https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa830.pdf
This Policy Analysis from the Cato Institute examines the effect increased access to private schooling has had on international student test scores in 52 countries. The Cato researchers found that a 1 percentage point increase in the share of private school enrollment would lead to moderate increases in students’ math, reading, and science achievement.

The Effects of School Choice on Mental Health
https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3272550
This study from Corey DeAngelis at the Cato Institute and Angela K. Dills of Western Carolina University empirically examines the relationship between school choice and mental health. It finds that states adopting broad-based voucher programs and charter schools witness declines in adolescent suicides and suggests that private schooling reduces the number of times individuals are seen for mental health issues.

Competition: For the Children
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/competition-for-the-children
This study from the Texas Public Policy Foundation claims universal school choice results in higher test scores for students remaining in traditional public schools and improved high school graduation rates.

 

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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