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Taking Back America By Taking Back Our Schools

Education savings account successes bring school choice to more students

By   /   June 23, 2015

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SAVING EDUCATION: Education Savings Accounts are a way to give parents and students more choice in education.

Education savings accounts are the “vehicle to improving public education,” according to Mississippi State Representative Carolyn Crawford.

These accounts, most recently enacted in Nevada and Mississippi this year, allow students to place a portion of the money the state would have been spent funding the child’s education into a savings account. The parents of the student have access to the account and may use the funds for education services, from private schools to tutoring.

States like Florida and Arizona also have ESA programs, enacted in 2014 and 2011 respectively.

“To see the [education savings accounts] empower parents to take the funds designated for their child and use that at any educational option is an extraordinary thing,” Heritage Foundation’s Jennifer Marshall said.

Crawford and Marshall spoke on a panel at the Road to Majority conference of the Faith and Freedom Coalition on Friday in Washington, DC. Mediated by Friedman Foundation Vice President of Programs and State Relations Leslie Hiner, the panel also featured Becket Fund Senior Counsel Eric Baxter and CEO of the Foundation for Blind Children Mark Ashton.

Ashton, father to a 22-year-old autistic daughter and a 19-year-old blind son, believes that education savings accounts made the difference in his son’s education. His daughter Allison was educated by the public school system. From fourth grade until twelfth grade, she made it her goal every year to learn to write her name in cursive. Though she had the same goal for eight years, she had no success.

But Ashton’s son Max was able to take advantage of the education savings account.

“We sent [Max] to Catholic school, and he got everything he needed. He excelled—he graduated with a 4.0,” Ashton said. “The education savings account really gave our son the best education Arizona had.”

While Ashton discussed his personal life experiences to encourage education savings accounts, Baxter used a photo to illuminate the same idea. The image portrays five or six young Amish boys racing across a field in Iowa. At the time, the state of Iowa was not satisfied with the Amish schooling methods and decided to enforce compulsory school laws. When a sheriff arrived with a school bus at the Amish school, someone shouted “run!” and the young boys ran.

This photo, Baxter said, shows the importance of freedom and school choice in education. It’s a testament to how far the Amish and others are willing to go in order to preserve that freedom.

“There is a deep compulsion in some to control how parents educate their children, but there is an equally deep sense in people—a deep, deep commitment to educate their children the way that they see fit,” Baxter said.

Eventually, the Amish were again allowed to educate their children their own way.

“We’ve got a lot to be proud of, but we’re nowhere near being able to say that every student in this country has tasted educational opportunity,” Marshall said. She suggested recruiting graduates of school choice to promote continued school choice.

“I hope that we’ve paid enough attention to making graduates of educational choice advocates of educational choice,” Marshall said.

As a state representative, Crawford immediately chose to focus on special needs education, which is why she helped to enact the state’s ESA program.

“In Mississippi we only had a 23 percent graduation rate under students with disabilities. I explained to them that it wasn’t acceptable to me and I hoped it wasn’t acceptable to them as well,” Crawford said.

Beginning July 1, the Department of Education in Mississippi will allow children with special needs to use their public school funds for other school choices.

“We get to choose where we live. We get to choose our religion. We get to choose our legislature, and now we get to choose our schools,” Ashton said.

This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists

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