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Education Savings Accounts (ESA) – Learn to Save, Save to Learn!

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Robert Brescia
October 23, 2023

There’s a lot of chatter about ESAs these days. It seems that we are at some type of inflection point in rethinking how states provide for the education of their K-12 students. This is not incremental change; it is a strategic shift in thinking. Like always, it’s probably best to start by defining terms in the school choice arena:

  • School Vouchers: An amount of money is calculated that supposedly corresponds to the cost to educate a student in a district, usually for one year. That money is given to the family, who then chooses whichever public or private school they want their children to attend.
  • Scholarship Tax Credits: The incentive here is a tax break for those donating to scholarship granting organizations or school tuition organizations. These scholarships pay for those choosing a private or public school.
  • Individual Tax Credit/Deduction: This lowers income tax so that educational expenses such as tuition and most other related costs can be paid for.
  • Education Savings Account (ESA): This process establishes a publicly funded, government-authorized savings account for parents with restricted, but multiple uses for educational purposes. Parents may use the funds to pay for expenses including school tuition, tutoring, online education programs, therapies for students with special needs, textbooks or other instructional materials and sometimes, save for college (Source: EdChoice).

In most cases, the state manages ESAs. In other words, parents can see what’s in their ESAs, coordinate disbursements for tuition to a specific school or in some cases multiple schools—or to a valid educational purpose such as tutoring. The state audits this whole process to ensure compliance. Therefore, adequate safeguards are built into the system to minimize misuse of funds.

There are already thirteen states that have adopted ESAs:

Arizona (Empowerment Scholarship Accounts)

Arkansas (Arkansas Children’s Educational Freedom Account Program)

Florida (Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options Program)

Florida (Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities (ESA))

Indiana (Education Scholarship Account Program)

Iowa (Education Savings Account Program)

Mississippi (Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Program)

Montana (Montana Special Needs Equal Opportunity Education Savings Account Program)

New Hampshire (Education Freedom Account Program)

North Carolina (Education Student Accounts (ESA+))

South Carolina (South Carolina Education Scholarship Trust Fund Program)

Tennessee (Education Savings Account Pilot Program)

Utah (Utah Fits All Scholarship Program)

West Virginia (Hope Scholarship Program)

My home state of Texas is currently deliberating the adoption of ESAs in special legislative session. Texas Senate Bill 8 was recently passed that enables ESAs up to $8,000. This bill is a big deal considering that there are over 5 million kids in Texas K-12 schools. How do Texans feel about such a proposal? Well, according to Americans for Prosperity who did some surveys on this issue, citizens of Texas are predominantly in favor of school choice enacted via ESAs:

Survey question #1: Should parents choose the best schools for their children instead of the government? Answers: 79 percent – Yes, parents should decide, 14 percent – Government should decide, 7 percent – Undecided.

Survey question #2: Would you vote for a state legislator who would let parents decide what school their kids go to? Answers: 54 percent – More likely, 14 percent – Less likely, 14 percent – Their stance makes no difference and 4 percent – Undecided.

Other key provisions of the Texas initiative: Choice is alive and well in the Texas SB 8 proposal—parents would need to opt out of the current system to join the ESA process. Private schools will act independently, and parents will be the best accountability tool for the program. Private schools will not be subject to state tests. Ten percent of the program’s enrollment can be made up of current private school students if they meet a certain income threshold.


As I mentioned in my previous writing about school choice:

“Freedom is a wonderful thing, and so is local control of Americans’ lives and communities. If education can be considered as a basic human right, then this implies parents should have the liberty to choose where to send their children to school. School choice might be a door-opener to innovation and productivity within a school. When schools must compete for their students, they innovate and create highly desirable programs, project learning and other ways to acquire necessary foundational skills. Many impoverished children attend poorly ranked schools; school choice could open doors to them previously closed by their nine-digit zip codes.”

Every parent must decide whether to support school choice through ESAs or just stick with the status quo—there is no middle ground on this issue. We should favor a system that places parents in the most important role in determining where and how their kids are educated. It’s exciting to see so many citizens involved in these issues—they care deeply about the quality of education in their states.

Author: Dr. Robert Brescia respects the wisdom of generations, promotes the love of learning, teaches ethics to university students, government & politics to AP seniors, and leadership to organizations. He is a candidate with the National Board for Certification of Teachers (NBCT) at Stanford University and serves as Social Studies Department Chair at Permian High School in Odessa, TX. The Governor of Texas re-appointed him to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) for a six-year term. Bob has a doctoral degree with distinction in Executive Leadership from The George Washington University. Contact him at [email protected].

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