Don’t Believe the Lies: ESAs Don’t Defund Public Schools
This legislative session, state lawmakers have filed several bills to give families more options for their child’s education in the form of new education savings accounts (ESAs). Several of those bills – HB 33 (children in military families, foster care, and D- and F-rated schools), HB 194 (students with disabilities), HB 452 (bullied students), and HB 824 (universal ESA program) – passed the House Education Committee last week with strong support by lawmakers. The next step for these bills is a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee to consider the fiscal impact of the bills.
Teachers’ unions and some local school leaders are claiming that ESAs will be the death of public schools in two distinct, yet contradictory, ways.
- Claim #1: ESAs will cause a mass exodus of children from public schools, leaving them with no resources with which to operate.
- Claim #2: The loss of even a few children to an ESA program will have negative financial effects on public schools and result in decreased services for the children who remain in those schools.
The first claim is outrageous because there is no evidence whatsoever that any school choice program in this country has ever resulted in huge departures from public schools nor the closure of any public school. But even more troubling is the suggestion that that many families are unhappy with their child’s public school – really? If that’s the case, we’ve got much bigger problems and need ESAs even more urgently.
The second argument is just mathematically incorrect, and here’s why.
Here’s where it gets interesting in looking at the overall effect of ESA program funding on public schools. Louisiana public school systems are funded through a mix of state, local, and federal dollars – roughly $4 billion state, $4 billion local, and $1 billion federal (45/45/10 percent). The state MFP dollars are paid based on a public school’s student enrollment or headcount; anytime students disenroll from a public school for any reason, the school’s enrollment is reduced and the state no longer funds the cost of educating that child because he or she is no longer present. In other words, the cost of educating that child in that particular school no longer exists.
However, because local dollars are not generated based on enrollment, but rather local tax measures, schools retain 100 percent of their local funds when students leave. Federal funds are typically based on multiple factors besides student enrollment, meaning that most federal funds will likely remain. Those local and federal funds are then used to educate and support the smaller number of students that remain, thereby raising the amount of per-student funding available.
The effect of this is when families opt to utilize an ESA to transfer their children from public schools to ESA participating schools and providers, and/or when kindergarten students participate in an ESA program instead of enrolling in public schools, public schools’ per-pupil revenues increase. That’s right, the proposed ESA programs reduce costs and raise per-pupil revenue for public schools, the opposite of what opponents are saying.
THE TRUTH is that education savings accounts give decision-making power to parents to meet their child’s unique educational needs while increasing per-student funding available for public schools. No mass exodus. No reduction in funding. Just happy families and kids.