It’s no secret that Louisiana’s state leaders have been eyeing what several other states have given their families over the past few years: the ability to make decisions regarding their child’s K-12 education. States are achieving this by introducing education savings accounts (“ESAs”). These are parent-directed accounts, funded by the state, that families can use to cover the costs of school or educational programs that best meet their child’s individual needs.

EdChoice, a national non-profit organization that works to empower parents with the ability to choose the educational option that best fits their child, has created a great video that summarizes how ESAs work.

Families can use the funds in their account to pay for private school tuition or fees, or they can customize their child’s education by using ESA funds to hire instructors and/or purchase curricula, textbooks, technology, and more. Some states also allow parents to use funds to enroll in a different public school system on a full-time or part-time basis, subject to voluntary school participation and available space. To date, ESAs are the most flexible, customizable options that exist for families, truly putting them in the driver’s seat and making it possible to find the educational program and environment that works best for their child.

Empowering families in this way not only addresses their unique needs, but also has the potential to motivate all types of schools and educational providers to do their best, compete for the privilege of serving families, and provide opportunities to students assigned to a single school based on where they live.

A large body of research shows that students thrive when states empower families and offer a variety of schools and service providers. Students’ academic outcomes increase in all schools, even those who remain in traditional public schools. Why? Because everyone is motivated to serve students well and engage with families as partners.

As Louisiana moves closer to adopting an ESA program, some supporters of the status quo have started spreading inaccurate information. They’ve engaged in fearmongering, telling families that their child’s education will be at risk. Nothing could be further from the truth, and here’s why.

Myth: ESAs will hurt public schools financially.
Fact:    ESAs actually increase local school systems’ per-student revenues.

ESAs don’t take money from public schools. They allow state dollars to follow the child to the school that fits best.

Public schools are funded through a mix of federal, state, and local dollars. State dollars are provided to school districts based on the number of students enrolled. When individual students don’t enroll in public schools (for any reason, like when a family relocates to another state or decides to homeschool), the state does not provide the school system with a payment for those students. However, 100% of local dollars go to the school system, and federal dollars received remain pretty stable year after year.

The introduction of ESAs to Louisiana wouldn’t change this, as the program would be funded through the state’s general fund just like any other program approved by the state legislature and governor.

If, say, five students currently enrolled in a public school opt to participate in an ESA program the next year, the state would deposit dollars to the ESA program for them. It would not send the per-student allocation to the local school system, because it no longer incurs any cost in educating those students. However, the local school system would retain all local and all or most of their federal funds, thereby increasing the total per-student amount of money that it has available to spend on fewer students enrolled.

Myth: Schools and educational service providers in an ESA program won’t be accountable.
Fact:    Schools and providers in ESA programs face more accountability than public schools.

Previously ESA legislation in Louisiana mandated annual testing for all students in the program. It also required test results to be provided to both families and the state for aggregate reporting. In addition, it has required all participating private schools to be approved by the state education board based on their educational program, meeting health and safety standards, and receiving approval by the courts for having non-discriminatory admissions practices.

But what really makes ESAs accountable is that they empower families to act. They are granted the ability to make a different placement decision for their child if they believe he or she isn’t being served well. That’s real accountability, just as individuals in any other marketplace get to determine how to use their dollars to achieve the best returns possible.

In the public school system, accountability has sadly consisted of granting low-performing schools more money with no real consequences, leaving kids trapped in sub-par learning environments for year after year.

Myth: ESAs don’t work in rural areas and will devastate rural public schools.
Fact:    Rural communities thrive when families have educational choices.

Some say that because rural communities may not have many private schools (or any, for that matter), it’s impossible that an ESA program could work well there. But according to a new Heritage report, “rural areas have far more education options than school choice critics claim—from private schools and charter schools to microschools and virtual learning.”

States with robust education choice policies like Arizona and Florida have seen a significant increase in education options in rural areas. Supply is growing to meet demand, as described in this commentary in The 74. In the past two decades, the number of private schools in rural Florida has nearly doubled. Many of them were started by former public school teachers. Have they devastated rural public education? Not at all, but they have served as a lifeline for kids who needed something different.

Myth: Families in our “good school district” don’t need or want school choice, so ESAs shouldn’t be offered here.
Fact:    Children and families in all types of school systems need and deserve options.

While many “high-performing school systems” in Louisiana may argue against the need for choice or improvement, the data shows otherwise. Only three of these systems have even half of their students performing at grade level or considered “proficient” in core academic subjects. Here’s the data from the Louisiana Department of Education, broken down by school system. Statewide, only 33% of students attending public schools are proficient, and Louisiana ranks 42nd among states for student achievement.

Even in a high(er) performing school, some students may be struggling for a variety of reasons—a disability, ADHD, dyslexia, bullying, a weak teacher, a disruptive classroom environment, or even a school culture that doesn’t support all students in reaching their full potential. That’s because kids are unique, and a one-size-fits-all education doesn’t work for everyone.


What questions do you have about ESAs or school choice? What would an ESA mean to you and your family? Email and let me know!