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2018 Proposed Education Savings Account Framework

February 1, 2018 by uva72

Summary: The proposed Parental Choice Education Savings Account (PCESA) program is modeled after Arizona’s successful Empowerment Savings Account (AESA) program and contains features of similar programs recently passed in Tennessee, Nevada, and North Carolina.

Parents must withdraw their child from the public education system and sign an annual, renewable agreement with the State to provide their child with an education in accordance with existing Virginia laws that govern private school or homeschool. In return, parents receive 90 percent of the State’s portion of the per-pupil SOQ education funding allocated by the state to the local school district. This stipend is deposited quarterly into a private, restricted use savings account. The State reserves the right to audit accounts. Account expenditures are restricted to defined educational expenditures (see below).  Parents must submit expenditure receipts for the preceding quarter and agree to a random audit, prior to receiving funds for the subsequent quarter. In the event PCESA funds are found to have been spent on unapproved expenditures, the State can withhold future funds, request reimbursement, and / or take legal action against the parent.

Scope: PCESA eligibility includes all special needs children and non-special needs children, whose family’s income is less than or equal to 300% of the federal poverty guidelines, and: (i) who are residents of the Commonwealth to whom public schools shall be free pursuant to § 22.1-3; (ii) for whom compulsory attendance is required; (iii) were enrolled at and attended a public elementary or secondary school or preschool in the Commonwealth during the two semesters immediately preceding the semester or term for which the student initially applies for a savings account or (iv) are entering kindergarten.

Products and Services: PCESA educational uses include:

  • Private School Tuition
  • Education Therapy Services and Aides
  • Textbooks
  • Hardware, Software (limited to <10% of annual PCESA stipend)
  • Consumable supplies or services
  • Individual Public School Classes
  • Private Online Learning Courses
  • PCESA Management Fees
  • Advanced Placement Courses, Exams, Norm-referenced   Achievement Tests
  • Test fees
  • Tutoring
  • Curricula
  • College Tuition as part of a K12 curriculum
  • Textbooks
  • Student Transportation (limited to <20% of annual PCESA stipend)


Funds not used by age 22 for allowable purposes are returned to the state.

Administration: The PCESA program administration will co-exist with and build upon the existing Virginia Education Improvement Scholarship Tax Credit (EISTC) program and use existing VDOE and Local School District administrative mechanisms to the greatest practicable extent, thereby minimizing additional administrative cost. Currently, Florida manages its Tuition Tax Credit Scholarship program and Personal Learning Scholarship Account through a non-profit, Step Up For Students. Virginia may or may not choose to adopt a similar model.

Costs / Savings. Ninety percent (90%) of the current State’s portion of per pupil SOQ funding is used to fund a student’s PCESA (no local or federal funding is deposited to a student’s PCESA). Ten percent (10%) is retained by the VDOE, which can be put toward program administration or other educational purposes.

Benefits: The PCESA program will provide true parental choice in education. A parent is free to choose a private school, private tutors, or create a hybrid schooling option that meets a student’s specific needs.

  • Eighty-seven studies[1] since 1998 have found that parental choice in education has positive impact on student academic outcomes, public school academic performance, cost reduction, racial de‐segregation, and promotion of civic values and practices. In a 2009 survey[2] of Virginia parents, 35 percent of parents say they would like to send their children to a private school and 9 percent would like to homeschool their children. At the time of the survey, only 9 percent attended private school and 2 percent were homeschooled.
  • Parents manage their costs and are free to change providers. Consumer choice places downward pressure on educational product and service provider prices, because they must compete for customers. This will contain the growth in education costs. PCESA accounts can be combined with scholarships, grants, or family investment to leverage the value of a PCESA.
  • On average, a PCESA student will receive approximately one-third of the per pupil expenditure that otherwise would have been incurred by the state on his or her education, leaving two-thirds of the per pupil expenditure to the state to operate the school and invest in other students.

The greatest benefit is the ability to match educational options with their children’s unique learning needs. The following links provide actual examples:

Additional information can be found here:

[1] Forster, G., “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence of School Choice,” The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, May 2016. [ ]

[2] DiPerna, “Virginia’s Opinion on K-12 Education and School Choice,” The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, November 2009, [ ]

VEC Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts: Talking Points

February 1, 2018 by uva72

Virginia House Bill HB1286 allows a parent of a special needs student or a student, whose family income is less than 300% of poverty, to choose to withdraw their student from the public school system and agree to accept financial and legal responsibility to educate their child at home or at any Virginia private school, which is legally allowed to operate under current state law.  In return, the parent receives – in the form of a deposit into a bank account established by the state and in the name of the child – 90% of the annual Standards of Quality per pupil state funds apportioned to the local school division (LSD). On average, this amount is approximately $4,300 or 36%.  Use of these funds is limited to educational purposes, which are defined in the bill and are consistent with the student’s educational needs and the parent’s responsibility under their agreement with the state.

Legislation Benefits

PCESA and Public School Students Benefit Academically, Socially, and Civically.  EdChoice, which biennially publishes a report, ““Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence for School Choice[1]” concludes that education choice has an overwhelming positive impact on five measures: student academic outcomes, public school academic performance, reduced cost to taxpayers, school racial desegregation, and civic values and practices.  To avoid “cherry picking” results, the report summarizes all education choice studies since 1998 that use the statistical “gold standard” of random selection to report participant effects and empirical studies that use defensible scientific methods to evaluate other claims. Of 100 studies reviewed, 87 demonstrate positive effects in all five measures; 10 demonstrate no visible effect; and 3 demonstrate a negative effect.

PCESA Students and Public School Students Benefit Financially. On average, one-third of LSDs’ per pupil expenditure (PPE) pays fixed cost of operation and two-thirds pays variable student costs. When a public school parent elects to withdraw their student, take a PCESA, and educate the student at home or in a private school, one-half of the variable expenditure (viz., one-third of PPE) funds the PCESA; one-third remains with the LSD to cover fixed cost of operations; and one-third is saved and can be reinvested in the students who remain in the school system. The net effect is that: (1) lower income families have greater economic capacity to exercise their fundamental right to direct the education of their child (VA Code 1-240.1[2]); public school student-to-teacher ratio increases (viz., one less child in the classroom); and public school per pupil expenditure increases (viz., one-third of variable cost savings can be reinvested in the students who remain in the public school).

 Opponents Concerns

Opponents claim students will attend private schools that do not have open admissions; the PCESA will not fully cover the cost of a private school; and PCESA amounts vary between LSDs. Our response is that the bill allows parents to choose between all non-public means of education currently allowed by and codified in Virginia law. Parents can leverage the PCESA with private money, grants, and scholarships to pay tuition.  If private school options are unacceptable or unaffordable, they can use the PCESA to home school. Last, if these private options do not meet their need or ideologically are not the best fit, they can remain in public school.  Every parent gets to choose.

Because the PCESA is funded by a fixed percentage of the Standards of Quality funds apportioned to the LSD and the apportionment varies by LSD, the PCESA award amount does vary between LSDs, as opponents claim. However, what opponents do not state is that LSDs with a disproportionately greater number of low-income families receive the greatest PCESA benefit: exactly those targeted by this bill.

[1] Forester, G.,Ph.D., “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence of School Choice,” 4ed., The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice (EdChoice), May 2016. []

[2] VA Code 1-240.1 Rights of Parents [ ]

What education, grocery stores, and have in common

November 2, 2017 by uva72

by Kristin L. Allen

In August, Amazon entered the retail grocery market. Its goal: transform the economic value chain associated with traditional bricks-and-mortar grocery delivery. Its plan: expand its scope, differentiate its product, cut cost by integrating grocers and customers into its larger e-commerce platform, and lower consumer prices. As Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon World Consumer, said, “And this is just the beginning – we will … continuously lower prices as we invent together.”[1] Traditional grocery chains’ market value dropped 8 percent overnight.

Education and grocery stores are different industries, but both have much to learn from Amazon. Like traditional grocers, public education’s business model is based on a command-and-control, geographically-based, product delivery system that has worked the same for decades.  Both take advantage of technology to improve their business model, but in different ways. Grocers use technology to minimize product delivery cost to the store, squeeze 2% profit margin from high volume sales, and compete on price.  Public education uses technology to expand and enable its administrative state, increase cost, and compete as a geographic monopoly.  A recent study by EdChoice[2] reports that between 1992 and 2015 the number of Virginia K12 students grew 24%, while the number of teachers grew 32% and administrative staff grew 50%.  Over the period 1992 to 2014, Virginia per pupil expenditure (in inflation-adjusted dollars) grew 26% and teacher salaries declined 7%. Public education has a lot it could learn from Amazon. But, will they?

Amazon’s disruption of the grocery industry is possible because, in a free market: competitive advantage depends upon product differentiation and the lowest cost to deliver the value proposition; firms that provide complementary or substitute products are allowed; and competitor barriers to market entry and exit are low. Unlike public education competitors, Amazon entered the grocery industry without being required to build a chain of brick-and-mortar stores, which were required by law to serve a specific zip code, nor were they subject to compliance with ubiquitous and ever-growing requirements imposed upon them by the industry they disrupted. Instead, Amazon bought the physical infrastructure and replaced the entire market channel of delivery with a highly cost-effective e-commerce platform that connects customers directly to differentiated, high-quality products, at a lower cost.

A similar positive disruption in public education is possible, if the barriers-to-entry are eliminated and parents are allowed to choose their child’s mode of education. One example is Summit Public Schools, a charter school, founded in California in 2003. Like Amazon, Summit flipped the education business model on its head.  The student is placed at the top of the education model, not the bottom. Administration is automated through a customer resource management (CRM) system. Teachers devote at least 200 hours per year mentoring and coaching, and students’ time is used differently.  Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, not only has invested in the school but partnered with Summit to build the CRM system, which he offers for free to 501c3 organizations interested in starting a school.  Parents, teachers, mentors, and coaches are connected to their student through the CRM and know what is planned and what has been accomplished against mutually agreed goals, at any point in time.  Students spend 16 hours a week building knowledge using online resources.  Students work at their own pace. When they think they have mastered a concept, they take a 10-question self-test.  If they answer 8 questions correctly, they move to the next topic. Knowledge is applied during the week in “project time,” where cognitive skills like problem solving, communication, creative thinking, writing, and speaking are taught through investigation, labs, seminars, papers, and presentations.

The Summit model is scalable, inclusive, and effective. Today, nine schools are in operation, serving 2,500 students in grades 6 through 12. Eighty percent are non-white; 42 percent are low income; and 12 percent are English language learners.  Per pupil expenditure is $7,000, compared to Virginia’s $11,745[3]. Ninety-six percent of Summit’s graduates are accepted to four-year colleges.[4]

If Virginians want educational outcomes like Summit’s, they must demand that elected representatives remove the barriers to entry for non-traditional educational solutions. One cannot put new wine in old wine skins. The gubernatorial elections in November offer an opportunity to start this process. We have two choices: one whose written policies support education innovation and one who thinks more public education spending will produce a different result.  It is time to choose carefully.


[2] Scafidi, B., “Back to the Staffing Surge,” EdChoice, May, 2017. [ ]



VEC Completes ESA Economic and Fiscal Impact Study on Rural Virginia Counties

January 6, 2017 by uva72

For the third year, VEC has worked with Virginia Delegate Dave LaRock to introduce Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts (HB1605 Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts (PCESAs)). PCESAs allow a parent to withdraw their student from public school and receive approximately one-third on average ($3,500), of the state’s per pupil expenditure on education ($11,523). In return, the parent enters into a contract with the state to provide their student with an education using any non-public mode of education, currently allowed by Virginia law (private school or home education).  Similar legislation has been enacted in Arizona, Mississippi, Florida, Tennessee, and Nevada.

While the bill has enjoyed success, passing both houses in 2016 — only to be vetoed by Gov. McAuliffe (D) — some elected representatives do not support it because they believe it will have negative economic and fiscal impact in their district.  This is especially true in rural districts.

To alleviate this concern, VEC applied for and received a grant from the EdChoice Foundation (formerly the Friedman Foundation), to study the economic and fiscal impact of the PCESA legislation  on rural localities and school districts in Virginia.  The study was structured to answer four questions:

  • Will PCESAs produce positive economic outcomes in rural counties?
  • Will PCESAs have a negative fiscal impact on rural Virginia school districts?
  • Will PCESAs cause a mass exodus of students from public education?
  • Will PCESAs negatively impact teacher pay?

VEC extended the results of three recent education choice macroeconomic research studies to quantify the answers to these questions. The full report can be found here.  Key findings are:

Economic Outcomes

  • With additional investment of $143 million per year in K12 education, over the next ten years, Virginia’s forecasted net present value of Gross Domestic Product, associated with education improvement, can add $0.881 trillion to $1.439 trillion to base GDP; increase rural Virginia County income per capita by between $2,542 (11.7%) and $4,500 (20.7%); increase median Household Income by between $6,560 (12.1%) and $11,615 (21.3%); and generate a Return on Investment, for the State, by between 45.2 % (with adoption of PCESAs) and 39.4% (without PCESAs).
  • Without additional investment Virginia’s forecasted growth in Gross Domestic Product associated with education improvement can add between $0.683 trillion and $1.104 trillion to base GDP; increase rural counties’ income per capita by between $1,952 (9.0%) and $3,460 (15.9%); increase median Household Income between $5,040 (9.3%) and $8,930 (16.4%); and generate a Return on Investment, for the State, between 0.2% (with adoption of PCESAs) and -4.8% (without PCESAs).

Fiscal Impact

  • Implementation of PCESA legislation will reduce K12 education cost by between $6.8 billion and $16 billion over the next 10-18 years.
  • The state and localities will save between $145 million and $180 million in the first full year of PCESA implementation.
  • Under the worst case scenario, sufficient savings are generated by the PCESA legislation to preclude negative fiscal impact on rural local school districts.

Public School Enrollment

  • During the first full-year, it is estimated that between 3.5% and 4.06% of eligible students will take advantage of the PCESA. This is consistent with both other education choice programs in Milwaukee, WI, and Bexar County (San Antonio), TX, which showed no negative impact on public schools.

Teacher Pay

  • Initially, direct impact is minimal because net savings generated for each student who leaves is available for reinvestment.
  • In the long term, teacher pay is dependent upon the public education system’s response to demand for quality education. According to teachers who participated in the Bexar County, TX, program, schools have to “become proactive in working to keep our students and to keep parents happy….Teacher salaries had to go up in order to compete with other school districts for better teachers.”

For impact on specific Virginia localities, please contact Kris Allen at

Education Choice Supported by 70% of Voters!

February 20, 2016 by uva72

As Del. Dave LaRock’s (VA-33) Parental Choice Education Savings Account legislation (House Bill 389 goes to the Virginia Senate this next week, the recently released second annual National School Choice Poll ( by the American Federation of Children shows growing grassroots support for educational choice, especially among millennial, Hispanic and black voters.

Last year, the poll found that 69 percent fully supported school choice, and 27 percent opposed it. This year, those percentages changed to 70 and 24, respectively.

Elected officials and candidates should take note: 55 percent of voters say they want to hear more about educational issues; 64 percent said they were more likely to vote for a candidate supportive of school choice, a number that climbs to 76 percent among Hispanics and 75 percent among millennials.

Call your legislator to tell him you support Parental Choice Education Savings accounts in Virginia!


January 26, 2016 by uva72

Kristin L. Allen | January 26, 2016

As Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t braggin’ if it’s in the record book.”

What does the record book say about Virginia public education?  According to the Cato Institute[1], over the period 1972-2012, K12 education costs have increased 120% in real dollars, and Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores – a generally accepted measure of a student’s college readiness – have remained flat or declined slightly.  In fact, no correlation exists between increased spending and student performance.  Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) benchmarks tell a similar story.Virginia Cost vs SAT Scores

Why is the expenditure per pupil vs. SAT Score metric important? It is a lagging indicator of performance and is a measure of the system’s performance over a long period of time.  Parents – in fact, anyone – can understand this graph.  It clearly communicates the system is broken, it must be changed, and continued investment – without substantive change – is a fool’s errand.

Parents intuitively understand the education system is broken and want greater choice.  Most parents are not consumers of performance statistics and nuanced, esoteric education studies published by government employees whose livelihood depends upon perpetuation of these studies.  Yet, they know that the public education system is not working for their children and seek alternatives.  A 2009 survey[2] of Virginia families found that:

  • only 42% of parents said they would prefer a regular public school for their child. Yet, today, approximately 90% of Virginia’s enrolled K-12 students attend regular public schools.
  • 35% of K-12 parents say they would like to send their child to a private school. In reality, however, approximately only 9% of Virginia’s K-12 students attend private schools.
  • 9% of parents in the survey would prefer to homeschool their child. According to data collected by the Virginia Department of Education, fewer than 2% of the state’s children are participating in parent directed education.
  • 10% of parents say they would like to send their child to a charter school. As of 2009 when the survey was conducted only three charter schools were in operation in Virginia[3], serving approximately 190 students.

The 2015 Friedman Foundation Schooling in America national survey[4]  reports similar results.

Politically, sixty-four percent of Democrats, 68 percent of Republicans, and 66 percent of Independents in Virginia are in favor of scholarship tax credits.[5]  A March 2009 survey of 2,220 low-income families located in Norfolk, Richmond, and Petersburg found that 69 percent were in favor of Education Tax Credit programs.[6] A January 2015 poll by a Democratic polling firm, Beck Research, found that nearly 70 percent of Americans support the concept of school choice.  Apparently education “consumers” do not like the product they are receiving and want choice in education.

Does Providing Parents with School Choice Work? According to Jason Bedrick at the CATO Institute[7], providing financial mechanisms for parents to send their students to schools of their choice is the answer.  He says, “The overwhelming conclusion of the best research on school choice is that students who receive scholarships to attend the school of their choice perform as well or better on achievement tests on average and are more likely to graduate high school and go to college. The positive effects are particularly found among low-income and minority populations that are presently the most choice deprived. The only way opponents of school choice get around this inconvenient truth is by ignoring it, which they do with great persistence. They are frequently aided in their willful ignorance by dubious ‘reports’ that claim to evaluate the evidence while inexplicably leaving out numerous gold standard studies by researchers at top universities.”

The latest such “report,” entitled “School Choice – What the Research Says,” comes from the Center for Public Education, an arm of the National School Boards Association. Interestingly, the report fails to include almost every analysis that has found benefits to private school choice programs. Studies[8] that are ignored by NSBA include:

  •  Twelve empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the “gold standard” of social science. Of these, 11 find that choice improves student outcomes—six that all students benefit and five that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found a negative impact.
  • Twenty-three empirical studies (including all methods) have examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, 22 find that choice improves public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found that choice harms public schools.
  • Six empirical studies have examined school choice’s fiscal impact on taxpayers. All six find that school choice saves money for taxpayers. No empirical study has found a negative fiscal impact.
  • Eight empirical studies have examined school choice and racial segregation in schools. Of these, seven find that school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools. One finds no net effect on segregation from school choice. No empirical study has found that choice increases racial segregation.
  • Seven empirical studies have examined school choice’s impact on civic values and practices such as respect for the rights of others and civic knowledge. Of these, five find that school choice improves civic values and practices. Two find no visible impact from school choice. No empirical study has found that school choice has a negative impact on civic values and practices.

What is the motivation behind ignoring the positive impact of school choice studies?   Clearly, it is not about what is best for our children.  It is about crony socialism: top-down control of the education system and protecting and controlling the tax money that funds it.  Want proof?  In the January 11, 2015 Wall Street Journal article, “Education’s no dollar left behind competition,” Vicki Alger reports that “in the past year alone at least a dozen states have been ranked 49th in K-12 spending  …  [w]hat these identical rankings prove is that you can aggregate data and shift statistics to prove almost anything you want.  And what teachers unions and politicians want is more money.”

To prove her point, she asks one to consider the [US] Department of Education’s data on “instructional spending,” which across the United States is more than $6,500 per student during the 2010-2011 school year (the most recent available data). Among the dozen states that claimed to be ranked 49th in funding last year, Idaho’s instructional spending was reported to be the lowest, around $4,100 per student, followed by Arizona and Oklahoma, which spent about $4,200 and $4,300, respectively. Illinois and Nebraska spent the most in this group vying for the rank of 49th, at approximately $7,000 and $7,700, respectively.

How did these states do in terms of student performance? The best answer is to look at the performance of low-income students, those who qualified for the national school-lunch program. Based on public-school results from the 2011 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), the average nationwide reading and math performance among low income eighth grade students was pitiful, with a 48% proficiency rate in both subjects.

What Alger found was that states that spent less per pupil tended to have better educational outcomes. Low income students in Arizona, which spent $4,200 per pupil on instruction, scored 51% proficiency rates in both National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) math and reading tests. Students in penny pinching Oklahoma, which spent approximately $4,300 per pupil, achieved a 53% proficiency rate in reading and 52% in math.

One of the most striking differences between the high and low per pupil spending states – which claim to be 49th in per pupil spending in the country –  is the availability of parental-choice programs. Unlike Nebraska or Illinois, both higher scoring Arizona and Oklahoma have parental choice scholarship programs that enable parents of disadvantaged students to choose the schools they think are best including private schools.  In these states, schools have to compete for students, which force them to improve their performance.

Do you want a better educational outcome for your child?  If you do, parents must put pressure on the Virginia General Assembly to claim their “…fundamental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education, and care of the parent’s child” (Code of Virginia § 1-240.1).  A right is not a right if you do not exercise the power to claim it.  A good first step is to let your voice be heard on legislation that will be proposed in the upcoming General Assembly to provide parents with access to Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts, expanded use of Education Improvement Scholarship Tax Credits, and virtual access to online education.

As long as top-down, union-controlled, ineffective public education is dispensed by zip code at ever increasing cost, most parents will not be able to exercise their “right” to choose the best educational outcome for their child. School choice is clearly a less costly and more effective means to this end.

Kristin L. Allen

Mr. Allen is President of Virginia Education Coalition, LLC (VEC). VEC is an alliance of individuals and organizations that supports parent-led, student-centered education reform.  VEC promotes policies and programs that deliver better student educational performance at reduced cost.  VEC believes that these objectives are best achieved through parental choice in education; transparent, open dialogue between parents, students, and teachers; and policies and programs that encourage maximum personal freedom and responsibility.

[1] Coulson, A., “State Education Trends: Academic Performance and Spending over the Past 40 Years,” CATO Institute, Policy Analysis (March 18, 2014 | No. 746)

[ ]


[2] DiPerna, “Virginia’s Opinion on K-12 Education and School Choice,” The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, November 2009, [ ]

[3] Currently seven Charter Schools are in operation in Virginia serving approximately 700 students

[4] DiPerna, P., “2015 Schooling In America Survey – Polling Paper No. 24,” Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, June 2015 []

[5] Op Cit note 9

[6] Stacey, E., “Survey: VA Parents Support All Forms of School Choice,” School Reform News, The Heartland Institute, March, 2010 [ ]

[7] Bedrick, J., “An Ostrich’s Review of the Research on School Choice,” CATO Institute, Nov. 4, 2015, []

[8] Forester, G., “A Win-Win Solution,” Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, 2013 []

A Path Forward: Parental Choice in Education Puts Kids First

January 26, 2016 by uva72


by Kristin L. Allen, Virginia Education Coalition, LLC

Parents have a dim view of American education’s direction. According to Jason Bedrick in “Americans Want Choice, Not Government Mandates” (EducationNext, June 2014), “Nearly six out of ten say that K-12 education is on the ‘wrong track’ compared with only one-third who said it is going the ‘right-direction’.”

Virginia parents’ concerns are founded. Over the past 40 years, the cost of Virginia K-12 education has risen 20% in inflation adjusted dollars, while SAT scores – a measure of a student’s ability to be successful in college – have remained flat or declined.  Education as a whole consumes more than one-third of the state’s budget. In fact, no correlation exists between Virginia’s increased spending and academic achievement. In September 2014, the Richmond Times Dispatch reported that more than 30% of Virginia K-12 schools fail to meet full accreditation standards.

Parents have responded by demanding more choice in how their children are educated. Since 2011, dubbed “the year of school choice” by the Wall Street Journal, states have adopted 24 new school-choice laws and expanded 33 existing choice programs, including voucher, tax credit, and education savings account programs.  None have been legislatively repealed. Surprisingly, a recent Friedman Foundation survey found that support for school-choice tax-credit laws was highest among groups that traditionally vote for Democrats, including low income Americans (67 percent), younger people (74 percent), blacks (72 percent), and Hispanics (80 percent).  In a 2009 survey of Virginia parents, 35 percent of parents say they would like to send their children to a private school and nine percent would like to homeschool their children. At the time of the survey, only nine percent attended private school and two percent were homeschooled. An additional ten percent would select a voucher program, if it were available.  In the same survey, Virginians – independent of party affiliation – favored the creation of a tax-credit scholarship program by a margin of 65 percent to 23 percent.

Most important, parental choice in education improves education outcomes. Fifty-six statistically valid studies since 1998 have found that school choice has positive impact on student academic outcomes, public school academic performance, cost reduction, racial de-segregation, and promotion of civic values and practices.  According to the author, Greg Forster of the Friedman Foundation, “School choice improves academic outcomes by allowing students to find the schools that best match their needs, and by introducing healthy competition that keeps schools mission-focused.  It saves money by eliminating administrative bloat and rewarding good stewardship of resources. It breaks down the barriers of residential segregation, drawing students together from diverse communities.  And [sic] it strengthens democracy by accommodating diversity, de-politicizing the curriculum, and allowing schools the freedom to sustain the strong institutional cultures that are necessary to cultivate democratic virtues such as honesty, diligence, achievement, responsibility, service to others, civic participation, and the respect of rights to others.”

Virginia has been slow to respond to parental demand for choice in education. The homeschool population in Virginia is doubling every ten years.  If Virginia homeschoolers were in their own school district, it would be the ninth largest in Virginia, behind the city of Norfolk. Today, many families who choose to opt out of a failing public school, choose homeschooling because it is the most financially viable option for them.  Clearly, both polls and the actual growth in homeschool population suggest that 44 percent of parents – if they had the financial means – would select either a private school or a homeschool education as a path forward for their child.

Virginia’s legislative response has been to cautiously follow other states’ lead. Inspired by the State of Florida, Virginia enacted in 2012 an Education Improvement Scholarship Tax Credit (EISTC) program for lower income students’ families.  In its first full year, the EISTC generated approximately $2.3M in donations. These donations represent a potential 400 to 500 scholarships, out of a total Virginia school population of approximately 1.2 million. EISTC scholarships can only be applied toward offsetting private school tuition. This is a small start, and it needs to be expanded.

This year, Virginia Delegate Dave LaRock (R-33) has reintroduced a Parental Choice Education Savings Account (PCESA) bill (HB389) that provides parental choice in education options for K-12 public school students. The PCESA program is modeled after Arizona’s successful Empowerment Savings Account (AESA) program and expands the use of the funds to meet the specific needs of the child across the full range of education modes.

The proposed PCESA program will require parents to sign an agreement with the State that requires the parent(s) to withdraw a qualifying student from a public school and, in return, receive 90 percent of the State’s Standards of Quality portion of the per pupil education funding – on average approximately $3,625 out of a total per pupil expenditure of $11,242 . This funding is deposited quarterly to a restricted use, self-adjudicating savings account. The contract will require the parents to agree to provide the student with instruction in accordance with nonpublic educational alternatives currently allowed by Virginia Code, which includes private school and homeschool options. Monies not used in a year, can be invested in a Coverdell savings plan and used to offset prospective college tuition. Parents must submit expenditure receipts quarterly, prior to receiving funds for the next quarter. Monies not used for K-12 educational purposes by age 22 are returned to the State.

Virginia Education Coalition supports Delegate LaRock’s proposed legislation. The PCESA approach will expand Virginia parents’ choice in education, which is being demanded by an ethnically and politically diverse majority of voting Virginia parents.  The PCESA will save tax payers money by eliminating, on average, $4,100 in taxpayer per pupil cost, while still funding the fixed cost of public school operations ($3,112 per pupil).  Last, PCESA and other school choice programs have demonstrated through numerous studies and growing demand that they deliver superior education outcomes, which is what every parent wants.

A growing number of parents recognize the wisdom of Milton Friedman, who said, “It is important to distinguish between ‘schooling’ and ‘education.’ Not all schooling is education nor all education, schooling.  The proper subject of concern is education.”  It is time for the Virginia General Assembly to provide Virginians with the choice they demand and the education their children deserve.

Mr. Allen is President of Virginia Education Coalition, LLC (VEC). VEC is an alliance of individuals and organizations that supports parent-led, student-centered education reform.  VEC promotes policies and programs that deliver better student educational performance at reduced cost.  VEC believes that these objectives are best achieved through parental choice in education; transparent, open dialogue between parents, students, and teachers; and policies and programs that encourage maximum personal freedom and responsibility.

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