Coronavirus has exposed the problems our public schools are having in meeting the educational needs of a diverse population. Many of these problems are rooted in the way we fund our schools.
Simply stated, because the public school is a monopoly and because North Carolina primarily funds the system – not the child, our schools lack meaningful incentives to meet the different educational needs of families.
Innovations have begun to help address these needs. Families are pooling resources to form pandemic pods or micro-schools where parents help to supervise instruction and also may hire teachers or tutors to accelerate learning.
But not all families and students have access to these resources.
What are families to do?
One way North Carolina can help families is to fund students instead of systems. One step is to allow families to take their child’s education dollars to wherever they receive their education. Funding students through a statewide education savings account (ESA) is one way that this can happen.
So, what would the benefits of an ESA look like in North Carolina? That’s the question Corey DeAngelis sought to answer in a recent Civitas-Reason Foundation study, Funding Students Instead of Systems. DeAngelis found a statewide ESA for North Carolina would:
- Produce $19 billion in economic benefits from higher life-time earnings
- Generate $790 million in economic benefits from additional high school graduates and $12 million from a reduction in social costs associated with crime.
- Potentially provide taxpayer savings of up to $115 million in one year
The numbers quoted are based on conservative estimates of 5 percent of students participating in the program and a one percent increase in program enrollment annually. After ten years, additional lifetime earnings would increase to $58.1 billion; benefits from a higher high school graduation rates would increase to $2.4 billion and due to higher high school graduation rates and the benefits associated with reductions in crime rates would grow to $35 million.. A higher participation rate of 10 percent – which is also used in the study — yields even higher numbers.
By linking funding to the child, ESAs empower parents to access the best educational option for their child while generating significant economic benefits and boosting positive social and civic outcomes.
Do ESAs work? Ask parents using North Carolina’s special needs ESA or parents in Arizona, Mississippi, Tennessee or Florida who can also access these programs. A recent survey of parents participating in North Carolina school choice programs found over 80 percent of parents who had children participating in the ESA program were satisfied with the program.
ESAs can provide a way forward for North Carolina families to meet the educational needs of their children. Policymakers would do well to consider these findings.
Click here to read the study in its entirety.