Part Two: Ultimate School Choice Through ESAs

By Kathryne Oates

This could work in Iowa!

Educational Savings Accounts (ESA’s) provide an innovative way for parents to have maximum freedom of choice when it comes to how their children will be educated. A handful of states have implemented an ESA program, and many others are considering them, including Iowa.


ESA’s allow any parent not enrolling his or her child in a public school to receive a grant equal to a portion of the state per-pupil funding. Students can use that grant for educational expenses such as private school tuition, textbooks, tutoring and online learning.

All students would be eligible regardless of their income level. And here’s an interesting part of the proposed Iowa legislation: any funds not used by graduation from high school could be used for tuition at an Iowa college or university. (For those in public education, their “per-pupil funding” would all be spent each year at their public school, and for private schooling, most if not all would be spent on tuition. But the rollover of funds not used year-to-year could benefit home schoolers; I don’t know how much of their funding would be used in a home school assistance program.)

ESAs would allow for true, universal school choice and inject the positive force of market competition into the Iowa educational arena. A poll conducted by the Friedman Foundation for Education Choice and Braun Research, released just last summer, found that 62% of Americans support Education Savings Accounts. That tells me people are ready for real change in education delivery, and that parents want alternatives to public education.

Strong Accountability 

Think about it…if Isaac Newton Christian Academy, as a private school, does not have excellent academics and runs a shoddy organization, parents will speak with their tuition dollars and go somewhere else. There is a strong accountability component for the school to be at its best. If parents have children enrolled in a public school and that school is not delivering a quality education…outside of trying to transfer to a public school with a better reputation, they have little recourse within the system. When you offer full school choice, ALL schools need to rise to the highest level possible to remain viable. Research suggests that school choice programs help all schools.

outside building

In a June 14 Wall Street Journal article, author Clint Block commented that “the emergence of education savings accounts may mark the beginning of the end for an ossified education-delivery system that has changed little since the 19th century. It begins an important shift of government from a monopoly provider of education into an enabler of education in whatever form or forum it most benefits the child.”  (The article can be read in its entirety here (and I recommend reading the comment replies as well):

Both Florida and Arizona’s ESA programs have withstood lawsuits brought from the teacher unions; Nevada’s new ESA is currently being challenged. (ESAs in Nevada are tied to households with income not greater than 300% of the federal poverty level.)

There were several pieces of legislation for Educational Savings Accounts that started to make their way through the State of Iowa Legislature last year. Some advanced further than others. None of them made it through funnel week, however, so we have a ways to go to convince legislators that this could work in Iowa and that many parents would like to see ESA’s.

We need parents from all over the state to connect with their legislators and promote ESA’s in their area. A grassroots campaign will show legislators our support for this type of program. We are looking for people in the Cedar Rapids area to help. If you are interested, shoot me an email at

What do you think about Educational Savings Accounts? What questions do you have? I’d like to start a conversation in this space about it, so please let us know your thoughts. Share them on the blog “leave a comment” section rather than on individual Facebook pages.

One thought on “Part Two: Ultimate School Choice Through ESAs

  1. Sue Ann

    We would love to have ESA’s here in Iowa! What a blessing it would be! I have a friend in Arizona and she is able to send her kids to private school because of it and is so thankful!


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