School Choice

Most people understand that competition begets choice. But choice — or rather the freedom to choose — is what drives competition. Makers of cellphones, cars, and chocolate know we have a choice, and they respond by competing to offer us better products at cheaper prices.

Choice works, and yet West Virginia parents are denied the freedom to choose when it comes to their children’s education. No choice means no competition to drive improvement and innovation. According to EdChoice, West Virginia is, unfortunately, among the states that offer no private school choice programs for its families. School choice comes in many different forms: vouchers, tax credit scholarships, tax credit deductions, and education savings accounts (ESA).

While all of these options offer opportunities to improve upon the status quo, the ESA option is perhaps the most innovative option for families. The first ESA program was introduced in Arizona in 2011, and four other states have since implemented their own version of the program. So, generally speaking, what is an ESA?

ESA programs give parents control over how their children’s education dollars are spent. ESAs allow parents to receive a deposit of public funds into government-authorized savings accounts with restricted, but multiple, uses. This means that with an ESA parents no longer just have a choice of schools— they can fully customize their child’s education.

Parents can spend the money on private tutoring, private school tuition, educational therapy and other qualifying educational expenses for their children. Some versions of the ESA program allow excess money to be saved and put towards children’s college tuition.

An ESA is but one option to propel West Virginia’s education system into the 21st century — the data is clear that school choice is good for students, good for families, and good for the future of our state.