The Buckeye Institute: Education Savings Accounts Would Help American Families During the Pandemic

Apr 13, 2020

Columbus, OH – In a new policy memo, Policy Solutions for the Pandemic: Enhancing Education with Education Savings Accounts (see full text below or download a PDF), The Buckeye Institute calls on the U.S. Department of Education to create education savings accounts (ESA) for every K-12 student in America. These accounts would immediately help parents with unanticipated education costs during the pandemic and would help students keep up with their learning.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way teachers, parents, and students approach education in America,” said Greg R. Lawson, research fellow at The Buckeye Institute. “And federal education savings accounts—which should be funded by eliminating wasteful spending to ensure that the overall level of government spending does not increase—can help families afford the new costs of home education and help students maintain their progress through learning resources and equipment.”

Ohio has adopted many of Buckeye’s policy recommendations to boost the state’s health care system and support Ohio’s workers, small businesses, and economy including:

  • Increased telehealth access and monitoring;
  • Permitted pharmacists to test for COVID-19;
  • Enlisted medical and nursing students to support doctors and nurses fighting COVID-19;
  • Begun to eliminate unnecessary budget commitments;
  • Instituted a hiring freeze in state government; and
  • Allowed establishments with an existing liquor permit to sell and deliver alcohol on carryout menus.

This new policy memo builds on the recommendations The Buckeye Institute made in Policy Solutions for the Pandemic: How Ohio Can Fight the Impact of Coronavirus, which outlined immediate actions policymakers can take to ensure Ohio and the country is ready to fight and recover from the pandemic. The Buckeye Institute’s recommendations can be found at www.BuckeyeInstitute.org/Policy-Solutions-for-the-Pandemic.

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Policy Solutions for the Pandemic
Enhancing Education with Education Savings Accounts

By Greg R. Lawson
April 13, 2020

The Buckeye Institute’s Recommendation
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned millions of American families into homeschooling families virtually overnight. To ease the stressful and unfamiliar burdens that the new homeschooling arrangements have caused, the U.S. Department of Education should create education savings accounts or ESAs worth $500 for every K-12 student in America. 

Before the pandemic, roughly 56 million students attended K-12 schools throughout the country. Stay-at-home orders and school closings in most states have sent many parents back to school—as teachers in their own homes. Online learning may help some families adjust, but not every household has the technology necessary and not every student learns in the same way, proving once again that education is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Federal ESAs from the U.S. Department of Education would help parents tailor their instruction and better meet their K-12 child’s individual, educational needs.    

As The Buckeye Institute explained in Education Savings Accounts: Expanding Education Options for Ohio, ESAs are broader than state-based scholarship programs that help cover tuition at participating private schools. They help parents pay for textbooks, tutors, online classes, and other essential educational items to give families more flexibility to design (and afford) personalized education programs that augment traditional K-12 classrooms.

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act offers households direct grants of $500 per child younger than 17. A $500 ESA for K-12 students would help parents with unanticipated costs and help students keep up with their learning. This solution would cost approximately $28 billion that should be paid for by reducing federal spending on nonessential services. 

The Department of Education should make ESAs simple by sending K-12 families debit cards linked to their child’s $500 ESA account. Initially, families would retain receipts to prove their educational purchases. Eventually, internal controls can prohibit unauthorized spending, and the federal government can work with vendors to offer bulk-purchasing options to spread resources and make purchase-tracking and accounting easier. The new ESAs could expand upon Coverdell ESAs that already allow families to save for qualified education spending for students younger than 18, and the new ESAs could receive additional contributions from both state government and private individuals. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing American education as teachers, parents, and students rethink their approaches to learning and educational technology and services. A federal ESA program can help families afford the new costs of home education and help students maintain their progress through learning resources and equipment without increasing federal spending.

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