Perla Macias pulled her son, Albiery, out of their local school in Arizona because he was not getting the attention Perla thought he needed to succeed. “It was sad because he didn’t even want to go to school some days,” Perla says.
Perla is like every mom—she wants the best for her children in and out of school. Fortunately for Perla and Albiery, they live in one of five states where lawmakers have allowed students to use education savings accounts to find unique learning experiences that may include online classes, personal tutors, private schools, public school classes, and college savings plans, among other uses, all with the same account.
With an education savings account, the state deposits public funds in a private account that parents use to purchase educational products and services for their child. In 2015, Georgia lawmakers considered legislation that would have allowed state families to use the accounts, but the legislation stalled.
Albiery’s new school has brought out his interests in new subjects, and Perla is excited to use his account to support him with whatever he needs to succeed. “He wants to be an architect, and I’m so happy for that,” Perla says.
In this three-part series, the Georgia Center for Opportunity will explain why Georgia needs to give parents this flexible educational option, how education savings accounts change the way we think about learning, and how the accounts work in states that have already enacted laws: Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Nevada.
Georgia families, like those all over the country, need better learning options. Student achievement scores should trouble Georgia parents. According to researchers, students in 30 developed countries outpace Georgia 15-year-olds in math. Among families where at least one parent finished college, students from 31 nations perform better than Georgia students.
In reading, two-thirds of the state’s fourth graders score below the basic level set by the U.S. Department of Education. By eighth grade, nearly 70 percent read below the basic level.
Yet in a poll conducted by the Atlanta Journal Constitution in January 2015, 30 percent of respondents rated Georgia public schools as “excellent” or “good,” while another 38 percent rated them as “fair.” Sixty-eight percent of Georgia schools cannot be doing a fair job or better if almost three-quarters of their students aren’t.
Every child should have access to a school that will challenge him and prepare him for the future. But the labor market is changing quickly. The skills individuals will need to know in order to have a successful career are impossible to predict over the long term.
A recent study by Young Invincibles, a group that researches trends among Millennials, found that the jobs most likely to set Millennials up for success are physician’s assistants, actuaries, statisticians, and biomedical engineers. These careers will require a solid educational background in K-12 and college and even graduate school.
Families can use education savings accounts to save money from year to year, pay for college classes before and during their student’s postsecondary years, and pay for graduate school. This way, students can learn skills before, during, and after college that will help them in their careers.
This feature of the accounts is why families like Perla and Albiery’s can talk about college. And life after college. “I think it has been very good for our family,” Perla says.
Georgia students deserve the same opportunities to find success in school and in life. Education savings accounts can help give this chance to every Georgia child.
Jonathan Butcher is education director at the Goldwater Institute and senior fellow at the Beacon Center of Tennessee.