For those who care about improving public education for Utah families and children, National Affairs recently published an intriguing essay about Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) titled “The Next Step in School Choice.”
This essay, referencing Milton and Rose Friedman, captures well the realities of human nature, psychology and behavior that the public education system has generally failed to grasp (and that therefore plague that system):
People can either spend their own money or someone else’s money, and they can either spend it on themselves or on someone else. The Friedmans argued that people generally have a stronger incentive to economize when spending their own money than when spending someone else’s money. Likewise, people generally have a stronger incentive to maximize value when spending money on themselves than when spending on someone else.
The lack of incentive to reduce costs or maximize value is particularly acute when the spender does not know whose money he is spending or on whom he is spending it. For instance, a person is more likely to purchase a lavish dinner with a corporate expense account than when a close friend is paying. Likewise, someone is less likely to maximize value when buying a gift for the office holiday gift exchange than when buying a gift for a significant other. In the latter scenario, the spender’s knowledge of what would provide the greatest value is also considerably higher when he knows the recipient well.
Public-school officials, like all government bureaucrats, primarily engage in the worst kind of spending: They spend other people’s money on children who are not their own. As competent and well-meaning as they may be, their incentives to economize and maximize value are simply not as strong as those of parents spending their own money on their own children.
Recognizing and addressing this human reality is one of the major purposes of ESAs, which deposit taxpayer dollars into savings accounts for parents to use to provide for their child’s education – through home school, public school, private school, private tutors or some combination of these, depending on the child’s need – and allowing parents to save any leftover money to use for their child’s college education. In short, ESAs allow a child and those closest to a child to tailor that child’s path for learning and education according to their personal, individual needs and give parents an incentive to seek out the greatest value for the least cost, so they can save toward the significant costs of higher education.
Some in the past have opposed ESAs in Utah because they don’t think an ESA system is workable in practice. But in reality, two states – Arizona and Florida – have established working ESA systems. In the face of this evidence, to argue it can’t be done in Utah is to argue that Utah’s education leaders don’t have the competence to handle what other states are already doing. And that argument does not seem based in reason or reality.
Hopefully, Utah policymakers will look past the fear-based arguments of special interests in public education and support legislation to create ESAs. Children in Utah deserve the freedom and joy in learning that Education Savings Accounts can bring.