ALEC: Students Deserve Education Savings Accounts

By Inez Feltscher
Director, ALEC Task Force on Education and Workforce Development

It is time for Oklahomans to face the facts: two-thirds of Oklahoma fourth-graders are not proficient in reading and three-quarters are not proficient in math, according to the 2014 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Money alone won’t fix the problem. Pouring more taxpayer dollars into the failed education system doesn’t mean that money goes into the classroom. Public schools have increased staff four times faster than the student population increase from 1950 to 2009, and the number of non-teaching staff has grown at the astronomical rate of 702 percent. Meanwhile, proficiency scores stagnate or even decline.

Instead of repeating the tired canard of underfunding, Oklahoma should embrace innovative solutions to improve its struggling educational system, which is why it is a shame the state legislature has, for the second time in two years, rejected an education savings account program.

Education savings accounts (ESAs) empower parents to make educational decisions for their children by allowing them to control the funds the state already spends on their child. Parents use the funds to create a customized educational experience that suits their child’s unique needs. While Oklahoma has both direct and tax credit scholarship programs, which provide school choice to more than 1,100 students in the state, ESAs are different because they have made the leap from school choice to educational choice.

Under an ESA program, parents can synthesize a quality individualized education from any number of sources: public schools, private schools, virtual schools, community college classes, in-home tutors, and special-needs therapies, to list just a few of the options. Additionally, most ESA programs allow parents to roll over any unused funds into a college savings account, lessening the debt burden that weighs so heavily on college graduates.

Floridian parent Julie Kleffel’s daughter, Faith, has Down syndrome, and has already had to face many challenges in her life. While Julie has created a customized educational program with one-on-one tutoring and therapy for her daughter that has helped Faith become a “bubbly seven year old,” the costs have been steep. As a widow, Julie has had difficulty paying for Faith’s individualized education and has even had to forgo additional services and therapies she believes would have helped. Thanks to Florida’s ESA program that passed in 2014, Julie will be able to avoid the “tough choices” in the past that have limited Faith’s therapies. Julie has called the program “life-changing” for her family.

Although ESAs are cutting-edge, Oklahoma would not be striking into unknown territory. Arizona has had an ESA program in place since 2011, and four other states – Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Nevada – have followed in the Grand Canyon State’s footsteps. And the program is popular among Oklahomans; a recent poll found that a strong majority of likely voters in the state support ESAs.

Education savings accounts put parents, who know their children best, in charge of their educations. Oklahomans have taken the lead on other school choice options, and education savings accounts are another step in the right direction.

The American Legislative Exchange Council is the largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators in the United States. The Council is governed by state legislators who comprise the Board of Directors and is advised by the Private Enterprise Advisory Council, a group of private, foundation and think tank members. For more information about the American Legislative Exchange Council, please visit:

Print pagePDF pageEmail page


Copyright © The McCarville Report