New Buckeye Institute Report: ESAs Would Meet Ohio’s Unique Educational Needs

May 31, 2017

Columbus, OH – On Wednesday, The Buckeye Institute released its latest report, Education Savings Accounts: Expanding Education Options for Ohio, by Greg R. Lawson and Lindsey Burke. This timely new research assesses the benefits of educational savings accounts (ESA) and calls on Ohio policymakers to adopt this innovative tool, which gives parents the ability to pay for the education services that best meet their child’s individual needs, rather than being forced to use a one-size-fits-all model.

“The ESA concept builds upon Ohio’s successes with a variety of scholarship programs such as EdChoice and will ensure that Ohio’s children receive the education they deserve,” said Greg R. Lawson, reserch fellow at The Buckeye Institute. “It also provides additional incentives that propel Ohio’s educational system forward from a 20th Century model into one nimble enough to meet the demands of the 21st Century.”

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In the report, Lawson and Burke outline precisely how ESAs would enable parents to customize their child’s education to meet his or her unique needs. For example, ESAs would allow parents to pay not only for private schools, but also allow them to use any remaining money in the account to pay for additional educational items such as textbooks, tutors, enroll students in online classes, or even save money for college.

“To enhance choices for families, infuse innovation into the K-12 sector, and ensure that education opportunities are as unique as the children they teach, Ohio should establish a universal ESA option that maximizes flexibility, accommodation, and parent-driven accountability, Lawson and Burke said in the report. “Ohio students deserve access to the best educational opportunities. Empowering all families to customize their children’s education through ESAs builds upon Ohio’s existing school choice options to ensure that every child has instruction suited to their individual needs.”

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In the report, Burke and Lawson suggest two potential funding mechanisms for ESAs.

One option is funding an ESA program much like the state funds charter schools. The state could place 90 percent of the full per-pupil amount ($6,000) into an ESA account and send the remaining 10 percent to the student’s originally assigned school district in order to defray a portion of the district’s fixed costs.

A second option would deposit only the actual amount that the district would have received from the state into a student’s ESA account. As Burke and Lawson note, though, while this mechanism might be easier to implement, it would also create less predictable ESA contributions.

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In their conclusion, Lawson and Burke find that ESAs would ensure that every child has instruction more suited to his or her individual needs and would empower parents to make and afford educational choices for their children that meet those needs.

Lawson is the research fellow at The Buckeye Institute and served for five years on the boards of two Columbus-based charter schools. Burke is the director of the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation and the Will Skillman fellow in education policy. She is also a fellow at EdChoice.

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