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Research & Commentary: Special-Needs, Universal ESA Bills Proposed in West Virginia

February 2, 2018

ESAs Could Be Used For Tuition and Fees At Private And Parochial Schools, Tutoring Services, Educational Therapies

Two separate proposals in the West Virginia Legislature would establish education savings account (ESA) programs in the Mountain State. The first proposed legislation would be available only to students with special needs, while the second would be a universal program.

With an ESA, state education funds allocated for a child are placed in a parent-controlled savings account. Parents then use a state-provided, restricted-use debit card to access the funds to pay for the resources chosen for their child’s unique educational program. Under the proposed programs, ESAs could be used to pay for tuition and fees at private and parochial schools, as well as textbooks, tutoring services, computer hardware, and educational therapies. The ESAs could also be used to cover the fees required to take national standardized achievement tests, such as the SAT or ACT.

Under the legislation proposing a special-needs program, ESA funding would be equivalent to “the dollar amount the resident school district would have received from the Public School Support Program to educate the ESA student had the student enrolled there.” For the universal program, ESAs would be funded to 90 percent of the statewide average basic support provided per student, except for low-income students (household income below 185 percent of the federal poverty level) and special-needs students, who would receive 100 percent. All leftover funds could be rolled over for use in the following school year and used to pay tuition costs for higher education.

In December 2017, EdChoice released the results of its fifth annual Schooling in America survey, conducted in partnership with Braun Research, Inc. The survey questioned 1,000 adults spread across the country about their views on K–12 education issues. Seventy-one percent of all respondents answered they were in favor of ESAs, while support for the programs is 76 percent among Millennials, 77 percent for those with incomes under $40,000 a year, 77 percent for blacks, and 81 percent for Hispanics.

Recent polling in West Virginia shows voters view ESA programs favorably and are not very satisfied with the current shape of the state’s public school system. A February 2017 poll conducted by the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy found 56 percent of state residents are in favor of an ESA program. Forty-eight percent replied they thought public schools in the state are either “poor” or “failing.”

ESAs are broadly popular because they allow parents to exercise their fundamental right to direct the education of their children. Not only are school choice programs like ESAs popular, they are also effective. In May 2016, EdChoice released a report in which it examines 100 empirical studies of school choice programs. Eighteen of these studies used random assignment to measure outcomes, referred to in academia as the “gold standard.” The overwhelming majority of the available empirical evidence makes it clear educational choice offers families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their widely diverse needs and desires, and it does so at a lower costwhile simultaneously benefitting public school students and taxpayers, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.

Currently, private school choice in West Virginia is literally nonexistent. While a universal ESA program would be preferable, a program for special-needs students would be no small step, but rather a significant stride toward greater education freedom.

The goal of public education in the Mountain State 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.

The following documents provide more information about education savings accounts.

West Virginia and Education Savings Accounts
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/west-virginia-and-education-savings-accounts?source=policybot
This study by the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy, published in September 2016, concludes West Virginia would benefit from the implementation of education savings accounts (ESAs). The study also explores the impact of ESA programs in states such as Arizona and details how a similar program would improve the Mountain State’s education system.

Education Savings Accounts: The Future of School Choice Has Arrived
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/education-savings-accounts-the-future-of-school-choice-has-arrived
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Policy Analyst Tim Benson discusses how universal ESA programs offer the most comprehensive range of educational choices to parents; describes the six ESA programs currently in operation; and reviews possible state-level constitutional challenges to ESA programs.

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.

Ten State Solutions to Emerging Issues
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/ten-state-solutions-to-emerging-issues-2018
This Heartland Institute booklet explores solutions to the top public policy issues facing the states in 2018 and beyond in the areas of budget and taxes, education, energy and environment, health care, and constitutional reform. The solutions identified are proven reform ideas that have garnered significant support among the states and with legislators.

2017 Schooling in America: Public Opinion on K–12 Education, Parent Experiences, School Choice, and the Role of the Federal Government
https://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/2017-Schooling-In-America-by-Paul-DiPerna-Michael-Shaw-and-Andrew-D-Catt.pdf
This annual EdChoice survey, conducted in partnership with Braun Research, Inc., measures public opinion and awareness on a range of K–12 education topics, including parents’ schooling preferences, educational choice policies, and the federal government’s role in education. The survey also records response levels, differences, and intensities for citizens located across the country and in a variety of demographic groups.

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 examined the effect that increased access to private schooling has on international student test scores in 52 countries around the world, finding that a 1 percentage point increase in the private share of total primary schooling enrollment would lead to moderate increases in student math, reading, and science achievement within nations.

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.

Recalibrating Accountability: Education Savings Accounts as Vehicles of Choice and Innovation
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/recalibrating-accountability-education-savings-accounts-as-vehicles-of-choice-and-innovation
This Special Report from The Heritage Foundation and the Texas Public Policy Foundation explores how education savings accounts expand educational opportunities and hold education providers directly accountable to parents. The report also identifies several common types of regulations that can undermine the effectiveness of the program and how they can be avoided.

Why Indiana Parents Choose: A Cross-Sector Survey of Parents’ Views in a Robust School Choice Environment
https://www.edchoice.org/research/indiana-parents-choose/
This survey developed by EdChoice and conducted by Hanover Research aims to measure what motivates parents from all sectors—private, public, and charter—to choose schools, as well as their awareness of school choice options, their satisfaction levels, and the goals they set for their children’s education.

The School Voucher Audit: Do Publicly Funded Private School Choice Programs Save Money?
http://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/The-School-Voucher-Audit-Do-Publicly-Funded-Private-School-Choice-Programs-Save-Money.pdf
This report by Jeff Spalding of EdChoice provides a program-for-program breakdown of school voucher costs and savings. On the whole, Spalding says these programs have provided a cumulative savings of $1.3 billion since 2007, or roughly $3,400 per pupil.

The Education Debit Card II: What Arizona Parents Purchase with Education Savings Accounts
http://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2016-2-The-Education-Debit-Card-II-WEB-1.pdf
This follow-up EdChoice report by Jonathan Butcher and Lindsey Burke examines additional data from Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program. Butcher and Burke reveal what ESA families’ expenditures are now and how spending trends have changed since their previous report.

 

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.

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact John Nothdurft, Heartland’s director of government relations, at john@heartland.org or 312/377-4000.

Author
Tim Benson joined The Heartland Institute in September 2015 as a policy analyst in the Government Relations Department.
TBenson@heartland.org @BenceAthwart