Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Does Your State Have Education Savings Accounts for Students?

You may question the power of a governor to change lives. However, no one can argue the difference that proper education can make in the life of a child. Newly elected Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a bill into law today that should make a big difference in the lives of many children. She called the new law, “the largest overhaul of the state’s education system in Arkansas history.” Jason Bedrick at The Daily Signal explained what the new law will mean. 

The “Arkansas LEARNS” initiative is an ambitious reform agenda that expands school choice, modernizes school transportation, restructures teacher compensation to pay more for performance, provides supplemental education for struggling students, and prohibits Arkansas public schools from indoctrinating students.

Perhaps the boldest component of the initiative is the creation of Educational Freedom Accounts, which are similar to education savings account (ESA) policies in 11 other states. With an ESA, families can pay for private school tuition, tutoring, textbooks, homeschool curriculums, online learning, special-needs therapy, and more. ESAs empower families to choose the learning environments that align with their values and best meet their children’s individual learning needs.

Eligibility for the ESAs phases in over three years. In the third year of the ESA program’s operation, all K-12 students will be eligible. In the first year of the ESA program (the 2023-24 academic year), all incoming kindergarten students in Arkansas will be eligible. So will students with disabilities, homeless students, children in foster care, the children of active-duty military personnel, students assigned to low-performing district schools, or children enrolled in one of Arkansas’s other school choice programs.

Sanders made the following statement as she signed the bill. “We’ve seen how the status quo condemns Arkansans to a lifetime of poverty, and we’re tired of sitting at the bottom of national education rankings. We know that if we don’t plant this seed today, then there will be nothing for our kids to reap down the line.”

The new policy has strong support with 7 in 10 Arkansans supporting it according to a recent Morning Consult survey. Among parents of school-aged children, the support is even higher with 78% support.

According to Bedrick, the initiative should protect schools students from being indoctrinated or discriminated against.

The law requires the Arkansas Department of Education to review its “rules, policies, materials, and communications” to ensure that they are in compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and do not “conflict with the principle of equal protection under the law or encourage students to discriminate against someone based on the individual’s color, creed, race, ethnicity, sex, age, marital status, familial status, disability, religion, national origin, or any other characteristic protected by federal or state law.”

The law also prohibits school faculty and staff or guest speakers from compelling students to “adopt, affirm, or profess an idea in violation” of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, such as that people of one race or ethnicity are inherently superior or inferior to anyone else, or that individuals should “be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual’s color, creed, race, ethnicity, sex” or other characteristics protected by law.

The statute makes clear that it does not prohibit the discussion of ideas and/or the teaching of history.

Students in Arkansas will still earn about the ugly aspects of American history, such as slavery, segregation, and Jim Crow. However, the law will appropriately prohibit lessons that divide students into “oppressors” or “oppressed,” based solely on skin color or that associate certain traits with particular skin colors.

The new law will put Arkansas “among the top states that empower families to choose the learning environments that work best for their kids.” It will also “ensure that traditional public schools are focused on education, not indoctrination.”

According to an article dated February 26, 2021, there are five states that have “active ESA programs: Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Those states have an estimated 19,109 students using ESAs. There are also twenty-three other states that have introduced ESA legislation.

I looked for a list of those twenty-three states but have not found one. However, I did find this article dated January 30, 2023, that lists some of the states. 

Utah now joins West Virginia, Arizona, and Iowa as the fourth state with universal education savings accounts (ESAs) for its students – a growing policy trend among state lawmakers that creates more expansive and inclusive educational opportunities for families….

A number of other states, including Florida, Nebraska, Ohio, Virginia, and Oklahoma are also considering universal ESAs this year, meaning the number of states with this policy is likely to grow in the coming months.

As one can quickly see from the list of states provided, there is some confusion about which states have ESAs. For all I know, the ESAs in some states may be different than “universal education savings accounts.” However, I understand that Arizona was the first state to legislate ESAs for their students. I am sorry to say that my state is not among the states listed. Is yours?

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