Under the current system that student is out of luck, stuck with only those classes their assigned school can provide. But what if a student could go to their assigned school for a few classes, go down the street to a more challenging or interesting history class, and then take an online college course later that afternoon? Students would truly design their own learning to suit their needs and interests, and excellent teachers of stimulating courses would be able to reach more students.
Right now in Utah that’s impossible because of the way we fund education. When a student attends a school, that school is sent all the money allocated for that student’s education. So if she wants to go to that challenging history class down the street, or needs extra help in science, there’s no mechanism to reimburse those other schools for her use of their services.
Flex Spending Accounts solve that problem by tying funding to the student rather than to a particular school. In the above scenario, the student would be allocated her education funding and then she would choose which classes she wants and where to take them. Schools would be funded for the classes they teach her.
A number of states have begun various iterations of this approach. Some programs are open to all or most students, while some are restricted to students with special needs or from economically disadvantaged areas. Other programs allow funds to be spent in private schools as well as public. One big variable is what to do if there are any excess funds at the end of a school year. State law could require those funds be returned to the state, or alternatively it could be invested in an education 529 account and later used for college expenses.
Tying funding to the student in this way can empower families to choose the best ways to educate their children. Every child learns in a different manner, and some schools excel in areas that others don’t. The use of Flex Spending Accounts is one idea that is gaining proponents around the country and that Utah should consider as we look to improve educational opportunity in our state.
American Enterprise Institute: Conference Research
Ed Choice: Nevada Education Savings Accounts
Cato Institute: Nevada Education Savings Accounts
Sutherland Institute: Capitol Hill Recap