Opinion: A modest education reform that could save Connecticut taxpayers billions

Because the amount of an educations savings account can be far less than a school district’s per-pupil cost, ESAs have the potential to be a financial plus for states like Connecticut, where the public school per-pupil cost for Hartford students is almost seven times that of a typical K-8 parochial school tuition in the same area, such as the Watkinson School.

Editor’s note: This commentary from Lewis M. Andrews, chair of the Children’s Educational Opportunity Foundation of Connecticut, appeared Saturday on the New Haven Register.

A recently released school reform study in New York promises timely fiscal as well as educational benefits, and not just for the Empire State. Some quick background helps us appreciate the study’s important implications for Connecticut.

In 2011, Arizona became the first state to adopt what is called an education savings account, or ESA, policy. ESA plans provide parents who believe their child is not adequately served by the local public school with an annual budget which can be spent on a variety of accredited options — not just traditional private or parochial schools, but tutoring, online academies, special needs services, micro schools and so on.

In the years since, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia have all followed Arizona’s lead with similar programs.

A legal challenge from the local teacher union has kept the Nevada plan in litigation limbo, but grateful parents in the other states have been using ESAs to school their children at home or in small groups during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ESAs were originally designed as an instructional reform, to give K-12 children more learning options. But because the amount of an education savings account can be far less than a school district’s per-pupil cost, ESAs have always had the potential to be a financial plus, as well.

Consider, for example, the situation in Hartford, where the public school per-pupil cost is almost seven times that of a typical K-8 parochial school tuition in the same area. The intriguing question in a fiscally troubled state like Connecticut is how much a statewide ESA policy might save all taxpayers.

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