A spate of new school choice bills enacted across the nation reflect recommendations made by Heritage Foundation education experts.
In West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice recently signed the Hope Scholarship bill that creates a universal education savings account (or ESA) program that allows parents to use their share of state education funds for approved non-public educational expenses such as private-school tuition and home-schooling materials.
Jonathan Butcher, an education fellow at The Heritage Foundation, was the first to push for ESAs in West Virginia and spoke to state government officials there numerous times between 2016 and 2021. In a publication by the Cardinal Institute, a West Virginia-based think tank, Butcher argued that ESAs are an effective way of providing tailored education for children and saving taxpayer money in the long run.
Butcher writes, “In Arizona, for example, district school students are funded at approximately $9,000 per student. For a child that does not have special needs and uses an education savings account, that child’s account is worth approximately $5,000.”
Butcher continued, “[R]esearch continues to demonstrate that when students have choices for their education, the outcomes are positive. Test-score-related achievement is welcome, but so is evidence that children who can choose a private school are more likely to have lower crime rates than their peers.”
Florida also recently took steps to increase educational options for families. Lawmakers in the Sunshine State are advancing a bill that would fund students directly by combining vouchers, tax credit scholarships, and ESAs.
These measures were directly recommended by Butcher and Lindsey Burke, director of Heritage’s Center for Education Policy, in a special report from 2013.
The pair offered three ways that Florida could shift its current funding structures to give families more choices to best meet their children’s education needs.
Creating public school education savings accounts: Parents could use a public school education savings account for traditional school classes, public charter school offerings, public virtual schools such as the Florida Virtual School, community colleges, or state universities.
Shifting existing school voucher or scholarship tax credit funds to an education savings account: States with existing voucher programs or scholarship tax credit programs should allow parents to deposit voucher or scholarship funds into an education savings account in order to gain more flexibility with their child’s funds.
Expanding the approved expenses covered by a voucher or private school scholarship: This would include expanding the uses of a school voucher or scholarship, transitioning the program into an education savings account.
“The rise in states passing school choice initiatives should be celebrated as a huge win for children and their families,” said Burke. “Parents should be empowered to make the best choices for their unique circumstances. By funding students instead of schools, states are empowering Americans to make those specific decisions.”
For more information on Heritage’s efforts on school choice, click here.