A new policy report from an Ohio-based independent research and educational institute offers commonsense solutions for improving K-12 academic outcomes in the state, all of which center on the availability of additional education choice options.
The Buckeye Institute posits in #StudentsFirst: Empowering Parents to Help Students Regain Lost Learning that allowing parents to make better schooling decisions, making educational resources more available, and raising the public’s trust and confidence in government-funded instruction not only will help reverse COVID-19 learning loss but also will lead to overall education reform.
“The disruption of the pandemic cost Ohio students the equivalent of months of academic instruction,” wrote author Greg R. Lawson, a research fellow at the institute. “Given the negative long-term financial and social effects of this learning loss, Ohio policymakers should pursue student-first strategies to regain lost learning time and improve academic outcomes for elementary and secondary students.”
The most efficient way to accomplish this, Lawson writes, is by dramatically increasing the number of schooling options and educational resources available to parents, thus enabling policymakers to help families tailor academic environments to fit their children’s learning needs.
Specifically, the report calls for the following:
Broad-Based Education Savings Accounts: Create a broad-based ESA initiative to reform Ohio’s education system and its long-standing government-run education monopoly by shifting the focus to fund students before districts.
Universal Open Enrollment: Make it easier for all families to send students to their school of choice by requiring all Ohio public schools to participate in inter-district open enrollment.
Expanded Tax Credit Scholarship: Increase the maximum tax credit from its current $750 limit to $2,500 to make it easier for grant organizations to offer larger scholarships to more students in need.
Enhanced Spending Transparency: Require all public school districts to operate more transparently by sharing their spending data with parents in Ohio Checkbook.
“Families deserve these reforms as their students struggle to overcome the negative long-term effects of the pandemic protocols that cost them valuable years of learning,” Lawson continued.
The report is especially forceful on the subject – and importance – of education savings accounts. While charter schools and voucher programs have produced positive outcomes, the author contends, they lack the flexibility to meet the personalized educational needs of each student. ESAs, on the other hand, with their ability to help parents pay for educational products and services tailored to their child’s unique academic needs, put textbooks, tutors, online classes and group learning pods within reach.
While public support for all school choice options consistently polls over 50%, the report states, support for education savings accounts is generally even higher. A 2013 focus group found that 94% of Arizona families using an ESA were satisfied with their accounts. Since 2017, ESAs have received more than 70% of the public’s support each year, reaching 78% in 2021.
The report points to a study of Florida’s ESA program, which while limited to students with special needs, shows that the longer a family uses an education savings account, the more services it buys.
The author acknowledges that programmatic administrative details need to be worked out for Ohio families to reap the full benefit of ESAs, suggesting that the Treasurer of State operate the ESA program to simplify the process for families and avoid bureaucratic hurdles within the Department of Education.
Additionally, Lawson writes, families with existing Ohio Afterschool Child Enrichment Educational Savings Program accounts should not face a second bureaucratic approval process; those who already have had their income level determined should pre-qualify for the new ESA, thus reducing administrative burdens to help encourage more families to take advantage of the program.