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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. [http://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/2016-5-Win-Win-Solution-WEB.pdf]

[2] VA Code 1-240.1 Rights of Parents [https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title1/chapter2.1/section1-240.1/ ]

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