Answering union critics on education savings accounts

BrokenBulb-Blog

Wade and Melanie Harris have four biological children, five adopted children (all younger than 9—a set of three siblings and a set of two siblings), as well as one foster child. Parents with small children generally count it as a miracle when they can make it through a normal day, but for Wade and Melanie, especially, “It requires an awful lot,” Melanie says.

Three of their adopted children have special needs, which require a litany of doctor’s appointments and therapies, and the other children are learning in an assortment of ways, including online.

“Dealing with their emotions and physical needs while putting them in these different places is challenging,” Melanie says.

Living in Arizona, the Harris’s learned about education savings accounts. Texans following events in Austin may be familiar with these accounts already. With an account, the state deposits a child’s funds from the state education formula into a private bank account that Melanie and Wade can use to buy educational products and services for their children. Texas lawmakers are considering making these accounts available to state families.

Recently, the Texas teachers union called learning opportunities like the ones the Harris’s are using for their children “privatization schemes” that have “little or no accountability.” In fact, families using education savings accounts can purchase public school education services such as testing services and extracurricular activities. And each fiscal quarter, parents must return an expense report to state officials documenting their use of account funds. In Arizona, the state department protects taxpayers by suspending accounts if reports are incomplete.

Texas teacher union head Noel Candelaria says “most low-income families…couldn’t afford tuition at the best private schools” even with an account, yet research from Arizona finds that the average education savings account for a mainstream student is close to the median tuition for private elementary and middle schools (approximately $5,000). These schools are now within the reach of families looking for a different option for their child.

Many Texas families are pleased with their child’s assigned district school, and thousands of committed teachers and principals make this possible. Education savings accounts would be an additional opportunity for students that need other learning options, not a requirement. Lawmakers in more than half of all U.S. states offer eligible students private school choice options—yet public school doors still open for 50 million students across the country.

“All of [my children] are different and have different needs,” Melanie says. The accounts “allow us to provide the best for our kids.” Every parent should be able to say the same.

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