Capitol Daily Memo: education savings accounts bill unveiled

 

Representative John Dougall’s innovative education savings accounts bill was made public today. As we have written in previous posts (here), education savings accounts (ESAs) are a game-changing idea that could improve public education in Utah by leaps and bounds.

Dougall’s bill, HB 123, would create and fund individual accounts for high school students, which they could use to pay for courses in public schools. Students would be able to use the funds ($6,400 in 2012-13) to take any number of courses at any number of public schools. Here are the specifics of the bill: 

  • Students in grades 9-12 would have an ESA that would exist for 10 years
  • Government would allocate a specific amount of funding each year ($6,400 in 2012-13) to each account while the student is in grades 9-12, and accounts could earn interest
  • Students’ parents (or students 18 years and older) could use ESA funds to pay for one or more courses in traditional public schools, charter schools, government-sponsored online schools, public institutions of higher education, and some private institutions of higher education
  • ESA funds would carry over from year to year until the account expires
  • Any remaining funds after ESAs expire would return to the education fund
  • Schools would be required to publish fees for individual courses on their websites
  • Total fees for a full course load could not exceed the total annual amount deposited in each student’s ESA
  • Government agencies and schools would not be able to impose restrictions or give preference to any particular course provider
  • Students would be able to participate in extracurricular activities at a school where they take one or more courses as if they were a full-time student
  • Students who meet graduation requirements would be able to graduate from high school one or more years early and would be able to use ESA funds in advance to accomplish this.
  • The state would be able to contract with a private entity in the state to provide courses to high school students using ESAs

Finally, the bill lists the following three items as purposes of the program:

  1. “To allow a parent or guardian to customize education to meet the learning needs and interests of each individual child while providing greater flexibility in the use of education dollars to best suit a child’s individual needs.”
  2. “To provide access to the best teachers and coursework available, regardless of residential location.”
  3. “To nurture a dynamic education system that is prepared to adapt to new modes of delivering instruction in the future while fostering an expanded range of innovative learning alternatives.”

HB 123 is currently in the House Rules Committee but will likely be heard in the House Education Committee in coming days.