Education Savings Accounts offer flexibility, opportunity

By Drew Klein, The Des Moines Register

Iowa’s education system is better than most. While our state’s national education assessment scores are usually higher than the national average, that doesn’t mean all students are thriving academically. Each student has unique needs, but often the public system straitjackets children into a one-size-fits-all educational model that hinders them from achieving their full potential.

That’s why state lawmakers should enact Education Savings Accounts this year so all students have greater access to a quality education.

Education Savings Accounts allow parents — not politicians — to decide how education funding is spent. Rather than allocating a student’s funding to specific schools, a portion of the funds are allocated directly to families for their children’s personal educational needs. That includes paying for a variety of services like online programs, tutoring, tuition and textbooks, and potentially higher education costs.

A quality education is crucial to prepare the next generation of Iowa leaders for success. Almost a quarter of the roughly 3 million people who live in the Hawkeye State are under 18 years of age. But graduation rates show that Iowa’s public schools might not be meeting the needs of students who need it most.

This is particularly true for low-income students, whose graduation rate is six percentage points lower than the state’s average.

There are many reasons why students don’t graduate on time, but often it’s because they’re not in a learning environment that fits their needs. Without educational choice, many students don’t have the freedom to find or use the educational options that strengthen their talents and help them succeed.

Students who fail to graduate high school find it much more difficult to get ahead in life. Nationally, high school dropouts earn roughly $10,000 less a year than those who graduate high school, and the unemployment rate for those without high school diplomas is almost double the national average.

But states that have allowed educational choice to flourish have seen positive results. A 2016 study from the Friedman Foundation found school choice participants improved their academic performance, and increased their likelihood to obtain a college degree. Another recent study found a Texas school district that offered school choice saw its graduation rate increase faster than two other districts’ rates without choice programs.

The Friedman Foundation’s study also revealed that students at public schools benefit from the competition — 29 studies have proven that more choice lifts the educational outcomes of all students, regardless of the type of school they attend.

Five states have already established Education Savings Account programs, and Wisconsin has a similar program. The state enacted it a few years ago, after seeing the success of Milwaukee’s local choice program. Students enrolled in these choice programs consistently outperformed their public student counterparts on assessment tests in 2015 — choice students in Milwaukee nearly doubled all Milwaukee public school students’ average scores in math and ELA proficiency.

Improving student academic performance should be a priority for the state Legislature. Enacting an Education Savings Accounts program in Iowa is a proven way to give all students resources to find the best education fit for them.

Drew Klein is the Iowa state director of Americans for Prosperity. Contact:

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