Georgia lawmakers are poised to consider several bills that would make education savings accounts (ESAs) a reality for students in our state. ESAs empower families with the option of leaving their local public school and choosing an educational option that better fits the needs of their child—such as private school, tutoring, or online learning programs.
In a recent piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, columnist Kyle Wingfield makes the strong point that at least one of these bills—House Bill 482—is “probably the most bulletproof piece of school-choice legislation Georgia has ever seen.”
Specifically, the current version of HB 482 has several provisions and accountability measures that directly address common objections raised by opponents of school choice. The bill:
- Reaches students who need help the most: It prioritizes students who have special needs, have been bullied, are from low-income households, are adopted or in the foster-care system, or live with an active-duty military parent stationed in Georgia. This hyper-targeted segment accounts for less than 0.25 percent of the entire public-school student population.
- Implements financial controls and requires standardized testing: The bill also creates strong financial accountability mechanisms for both public and private schools involved with ESAs. Another accountable measure requires students participating in the ESA program to take nationally norm-referenced tests measuring academic achievement in math and language arts.
As Wingfield summarizes, the bill “addresses every objection school-choice opponents have ever raised. Well, except for their objection to the very existence of school choice at all.”
Think about the opportunities opened up by ESAs for students who face a dim future in a school that doesn’t meet their needs:
- A low-income student in a low-performing school district can receive an education that gives him or her the best chance of flourishing in the future.
- A bullied student can escape a toxic, dangerous environment and flourish at a safer school of choice.
- A special-needs student—maybe a child with autism, a traumatic brain injury, or an orthopedic impairment—can receive the individualized attention needed to thrive.
Without ESAs and other school-choice measures, these students are likely to remain stuck in local school districts that fall short in adequately addressing their unique needs.
If lawmakers approved an ESA bill this year, Georgia would become the sixth state nationally to create one of these programs.