Education savings accounts are the future of school choice. ESAs increase the learning potential of every child by giving their parents more financial freedom to choose the right learning opportunity for their child.
ESAs place state dollars designated for a child’s education in an account for the parents for restricted educational uses. The funds can cover a variety of expenses, including:
- Tuition and fees at an eligible private school
- Specialized services such as occupational, behavioral, physical, and speech-language therapies
- Licensed or accredited tutoring
- Instructional materials and curriculum
- Virtual programs or online courses
- Exam fees
- Contract services from a public school or district, including individual classes
ESAs create an innovative and flexible approach to education maximizing each child’s potential as students are no longer limited to one setting.
ESAs often get confused with more traditional choice options such as vouchers and tax-credit scholarships. ESAs differ from vouchers and tax-credit scholarships because the more traditional options only allow parents to choose between participating schools, while ESAs allow parents to fund other education expenses. While vouchers and tax-credit scholarships are an excellent option, ESAs are both flexible and customizable, therefore truly putting parents in control.
ESAs in Mississippi
With the passage of the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act in 2015, Mississippi became the 3rd state to approve ESAs. Currently, only five states have ESA programs with Nevada being the nation’s first program expanding to all students. Arizona expanded their ESA to make it nearly universal over a several year phase-in.
The program in Mississippi, though limited to students with special needs, has been very successful. A survey of participants in the program found that 98 percent of parents were satisfied with their child’s new school or educational setting compared to just 24 percent who were satisfied with their child’s previous school. The current program is working, but only for a few.
While an ESA program for students with special needs is a step in the right direction and could potentially benefit many Mississippi families, the end goal should be expanding the ESA to all students in our state and letting parents choose the best educational setting for their child.