Yes, parents can be the deciders and yes, there are safeguards

A recent article in the Tampa Bay Times dissected parents’ uses of Florida’s education choice scholarships, including some unconventional uses of funding, like large-screen TVs.

While the article quoted supporters of the program and defenders of parents’ choices, it did not feature the most important perspective: That of parents using the scholarships.

One scholarship parent, David Head, offers that missing perspective in a guest column published by the Orlando Sentinel.

An education savings account is not a blank check for free spending. All our expenses must be approved by the administering agency, and the review process is hardly a rubber stamp. You submit receipts, provide an explanation of how the item, service, or activity benefits the student’s education, and affirm that everything is true to the best of your knowledge. Then, you wait to see what additional documentation may be required.

The reviewers can be maddeningly exact in their demands. I’ve had a request for more information when a school form listed the total annual tuition rather than the monthly amount stipulated by the rulebook. I’ve had a request to reimburse for speech therapy similarly sent back because a hospital receipt didn’t specifically say my son had received speech therapy.

Eventually, once you’ve jumped through all the hoops and several weeks have gone by, the money is sent from the education savings account to your bank account. And these are, with no question, allowed expenses. I can’t imagine what kind of scrutiny a TV gets.

More than misunderstanding the process, however, PEP critics err in not believing that parents can be good stewards of the financial resources entrusted to them by the state for the education of their children.

Head concludes with a mic drop: “Abuse of the system should be punished and loopholes closed, but most parents will spend their scholarship money carefully, because they are spending on one of the most precious things possible: their children’s education.”

We’ve highlighted some outré uses of scholarship funds over the years on this blog, including the story of a parent who used her education savings account to design a ball pit for children with autism. Expenses that might seem strange in the abstract can be transformational for an individual child.


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BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at) sufs.org.