‘Education savings accounts’: a game-changing idea


For you parents out there with students in high school, how would you like it if you were given a chunk of money to pay for the best high school education possible for your child, with the flexibility to take the best math class from one public school and the best English class in another public school? Further, how would you like it if, after your child’s customized education were paid for, you were allowed to keep any leftover money to pay for college?

This personalized, parent-centered approach to public education may be coming soon to a public school near you.

A Utah County legislator, Rep. John Dougall (R-Highland), recently proposed that the state institute a system of “education savings accounts” (ESA) that would give parents a pool of money (about $6,000) to use to pay for their child’s education. The funds would go proportionally to public schools based on how many classes a student was enrolled in at that school. Anything left over at the end of the year would stay in a student’s ESA, and at the end of high school, money in the ESA could be used to pay for college.

This policy would be good for Utah families on several levels. First, it would recognize parents’ fundamental right to “exercise primary control over the … education of their children.” Second, it would empower Utah parents with tools they need to direct their child’s education – namely, control of public education funding and the ability to choose what their child’s education looks like. Third, especially when coupled with the state’s new public school data website for parents, it would encourage innovation and improvement in public schools by giving parents the ability to reward schools that perform at a high level (in one or multiple academic categories) by sending their child’s ESA funds to that school.

Certainly, many details need to be worked out with this policy, which exists primarily at a conceptual level at this point. But these are the kinds of innovative, game-changing education policy ideas that Utah policymakers should be looking at and pursuing. Otherwise, there’s little chance that Utah’s public schools will become what we all want them to be.