Education savings accounts run wild

Parental choice takes several forms, but arguably none as appealing as education savings accounts.  Arizona was a pioneer in establishing them in 2011.  But what has happened there serves as a cautionary tale for other states (“Cosmetics and Clothes: Parents Misspent $700,000 in Arizona’s School Choice Program,” Education Week, Nov. 19).

The way they work likely explains why.  The state deposits 90 percent of per-student funds allocated to a participating pupil into a dedicated bank account.  Parents are given a debit card to spend the money on a list of approved educational expenses.  But some parents have been using the money for prohibited purchases such as cosmetics, clothing and travel.

Arizona has not aggressively monitored the program until recently.  The only way to do so is to track cash withdrawals on a daily basis, rather than wait until parents have run up thousands of dollars of withdrawals.  Education savings accounts are not personal piggy banks to be used as parents alone see fit.

Florida uses the accounts also, but the state does not administer the program.  Instead, two non-profit groups are charged with that responsibility.  Yet even under that system abuses are possible unless oversight is systematic.  The lesson to be learned is that parental choice funding requires constant accounting.

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2 Replies to “Education savings accounts run wild”

  1. ESAs pose all the problems of vouchers + the additional disadvantage of parents easily stealing the $.

    Just improve the neighborhood public schools. If parents want to send their kids to private schools, let the parents pay for the private schools.

    Vouchers — like charters — are an inadequate answer to chaotic low-SES/inner-city neighborhood public schools. By syphoning off the children of the concerned/functional inner-city parents (all SES levels, all races), vouchers and charters exacerbate the chaos in the low-SES/inner-city neighborhood public schools + reduce the political pressure to improve those neighborhood public schools. Many of the private schools and virtually all of the charters have teachers, curriculum, facilities and support services that are inferior to those provided in the neighborhood public schools — some of the expensive private schools are superior to the neighborhood public schools in these respects, but voucher $ is not enough to enable low-income parents to send their children to these expensive private schools. The only advantage the less-expensive privates and the charters have over the neighborhood public schools is that, because they enroll only children of concerned/functional parents and because they can expel/counsel-out problem students, they have better-motivated/better-behaved students so the classes are not as chaotic as the classes in the low-SES/inner-city neighborhood public schools.

    Forget the vouchers and the charters; reinstitute tracking in the low-SES/inner-city public schools + improve behavior standards/discipline practices in the low-SES/inner-city public schools. That’s a far better answer to the problems posed by the chaotic nature of the low-SES/inner-city public schools.


  2. Labor Lawyer: What you say is true, but so many neighborhood schools are failing to educate despite additional funding. As a result, parents demand choice. The long wait lists, consisting of large numbers of poor black and Hispanic families, is evidence. In an ideal world, all neighborhood schools would be so excellent that few parents would opt out.


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