(David Mansdoerfer) – In Florida, a significant effort is being made to expand parental choice in the K-12 system. HB 1225, which would expand the definition of Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs), grants parental access to 85% of what the state would spend on their kids during the course of an academic year. This money could then be used to invest in a child’s K-20 education. Specifically, parents could use this money to send their kids to alternative schools (private or charter), or save the money for college.
By expanding ESA programs, Florida could realize a 15% savings from each student that enrolls in an ESA. More importantly, parents would regain control of their kids’ academic futures.
To date, parental choice programs, such as Florida’s McKay Scholarship Program, which allows students with disabilities to use a percentage of the money the state would spend on their education at any school that they choose, have seen positive results. The McKay Scholarship, which began in 1999, has helped Florida students with disabilities improve their National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test scores.
In 1998, before the program began, 24% of students with disabilities in Florida scored at basic or above on their NAEP reading exam – right on par with the national average. By 2009, however, 45% of Florida students with disabilities scored at basic or above on their NAEP reading exam – 11% higher than the national average.
Clearly, Florida students have benefited from being allowed to choose the school system that best suits their needs. With over 22,000 students in the program, Florida’s McKay Scholarship has shown the impact that parental choice programs can have on students and their test scores.
By allowing money to follow students to successful schools at a discount rate to the state, ESAs serve as the best chance to bring change to our broken educational system. In order for meaningful change to occur, additional states need to follow Florida’s example and take up the cause. Only when these efforts are replicated throughout the United States, will parents regain the power over their kids’ academic futures.
(Mr. Mansdoerfer is the Director of Federal Affairs for Citizen Outreach)