Education Savings Accounts Offer True School Choice

6/7/18, Maine First Media Staff Report,

Pouring more money into a broken system does nothing to improve results.

The Left’s answer to our education woes is always the same — more money.

However, additional funding without changing the root causes of the deficiencies will not achieve the desired benefits.

Let’s say you own a house. And you notice food doesn’t stay stable on your kitchen table. You head to the store and purchase a new table, but the problem persists. So, you redo your kitchen floors at great expense, but your morning coffee still isn’t level. Before renovating your entire kitchen, it might be worth checking to see if the problem is actually with your home’s foundation.

In other words, Maine needs to fix what’s broken with our education system instead of endlessly dumping good money after bad.

In a semi-weekly feature, Maine First Media will be looking in-depth at the agenda for Maine proposed by our friends at Maine First Project.

This week we look at one of their education priorities, enacting Education Savings Accounts to ensure real School Choice for parents. You can see Maine First Project’s 20-point Maine-First Agenda by clicking here.

There are many things wrong with Maine’s education system. Poor efficiency stalls much of the funding at the administrative levels instead of in the classroom. Local districts are dictated to by the state and the federal government. Out-of-control teacher tenure prevents replacement of ill-equipped educators. We teach our children in largely the same way as we did hundreds of years ago because education unions object to any new technological advancements. We’ve abandoned vocation education, shop, and home economics. The list goes on-and-on.

There is no magical elixir that will solve all of our education problems. However, School Choice is the biggest building block to a better education future in Maine.

Maine Education Woes

As of 2016, Maine spends more than $13,000 per student every school year. That’s about $2.5-Billion annually. In fact, only 15 states spend more per pupil than Maine, and many of those states have much higher costs of living (meaning a dollar goes further in Maine).

Meanwhile, according to the National Assessment of Education Progress’ “National Report Card,” Maine ranks below the Northeast region averages in both fourth and eighth-grade math and reading.

40% of Maine’s fourth-graders scored “proficient or above,” in math testing. Meanwhile, only 36% of eighth-graders achieved that same level.

Reading scores tell the same story. Only 36% percent of fourth-graders passed with “proficient or better.” The eighth-graders were a little better at 39%.

Meanwhile, 7% of the state is illiterate. And our dropout rate is about 13%.

Mainers are spending a lot of money to get minimal results. Our students aren’t prepared with the skills needed for the in-demanded jobs. We need new answers beyond simply spending more money.

What are ESAs?

Education Savings Accounts are private account controlled by parents. The state deposits the money they would be spending on the student (state‐guaranteed Basic Support per Pupil) into the account. Parents can then use that money for certain approved purchases like; tuition at a market or online school, transportation, textbooks and study materials and even private tutoring.

The flexibility of ESA results in courses of study customized specifically for each child’s individual needs.

Nevada is the first state to pass Universal Education Savings Accounts. The state deposits 100% of the Basic Support per Pupil guarantee into every qualified student’s account whose parents make less than 185% of the poverty line. For students with parents earning more than that threshold, the state funds 90% of the Basic Support per Pupil guarantee.

Equal Opportunity

One of the best attributes of ESAs is how it evens the playing field between students with poor and rich families.

Educational choice has always been available to families with money. They can afford market‐school tuition on their own. However, less affluent children are forced into often underperforming government schools (unless they win a lottery for admission into a Charter School).

Low‐income students in Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, Florida and elsewhere have shown significant improvement after participating in School Choice programs for only a few years.

Without School Choice, the cycle of poverty is perpetuated in many communities. ESAs would end this tragic cycle by offering equal education opportunity.

Market Schools vs. Government Schools

Nationwide, students in market schools score almost two grade levels higher on standardized math and reading tests than do their government‐school peers. Also, graduation rates and the likelihood of attending college are far higher among market school students.

However, School Choice actually improves government schools.

Opponents argue School Choice programs steal the best students away from government schools. But the fact is, alternatives lead to higher test scores and graduation rates even for students who remain in government schools. Because students with ESAs receive lower funding, the per‐pupil funding level for those who choose to remain in public schools rises.

Parents Are Happy

ESAs started in Arizona back in 2011. Since then, studies have found parents from all income levels were more satisfied with the ESA than with the government school their children had attended. This proved especially true for parents in the lowest income brackets.

Education Savings Accounts for Maine

Maine is already on the right track with Charter schools, although more options would be ideal.

The next step in offering parents true School Choice is Education Savings Accounts.

ESAs will improve the quality of education for all Maine students, across the socio-economic spectrum. ESAs are the key to assuring Maine has a prepared workforce for the future. Improving our education system will have life-long benefits in terms of earnings and quality of life for Maine’s children. And a better-educated labor force will act as a draw for employers to move to the Pine Tree State and bring good-paying careers with them.

Maine First Media hopes to see a lawmaker sponsor and introduce a Universal Education Savings Account bill in the next legislative session.

It’s time to start doing what’s right for Maine’s students.