ESAs grant parents access to all or a portion of the money allocated toward their child’s government school education, to use on educational alternatives such as homeschool textbooks, tutoring, learning therapies, or private school tuition. Connecticut currently has no educational choice programs.
“Although ESAs are hardly a panacea for all of Connecticut’s problems, they do promise both to improve equity and save millions of dollars—and most importantly, offer the opportunity for children across our state to achieve their full potential,” authors Lewis M. Andrews and Martin F. Lueken write in “Education Savings Accounts: Empowering Kids and Saving Money in Connecticut,” released in September 2017.
Myriad Education Challenges
“Few states in America currently confront as many difficult challenges across so many policy fronts as Connecticut,” the study reports.
The state is hampered by “an 11-year-old lawsuit that had sought increased subsidies for the state’s worst performing schools” and “budget deficits made worse by an unexpected 12–14 percent drop in projected revenues and the nation’s second-worst-funded teacher pension plan,” the authors write.
“Adding to these two problems, many of the remedies proposed to correct them endanger the traditional independence of the state’s 169 towns,” the authors further report. “Threats include Gov. Daniel Malloy’s desire to bill municipalities for a third of the state’s annual contribution to the teacher pension fund and the perennially resurrected plan to consolidate local school districts into city-centered regions.”
Solution to Several Problems
“By offering families who want more flexibility in educating their K-12 children the financial means that would allow it, the legislature could significantly improve the quality of public education, save hundreds of millions of dollars to meet other state and local fiscal needs, and accomplish all of it without threatening towns’ control of their own school districts,” the study concludes.
‘Huge Budgetary Problems’
Andrews, president of the Children’s Educational Opportunity Foundation of Connecticut, says the state’s finances are a mess.
“Connecticut is the last state in the union to have a budget this year, and the legislature and the governor have been fighting over it because Connecticut has huge budgetary problems,” Andrews said.
After researching education spending across the state, Andrews and Lueken concluded if 10 percent of the state’s students had the opportunity to use an ESA, the $400 million Malloy called for in the recent session would become available without raising taxes.
“That was our point, really, to show there’s an enormous amount of money to be gained by improving education options,” Andrews said.
Big Blue-State Opportunity
Andrews says private schools educate children for much less money than government schools.
“All [the states we analyzed] found they could offer an ESA for around $1,000 less than the average per-pupil cost, because in all those, mostly southern states, the difference between parochial school tuition and the per-pupil [government school] cost was about $1,000,” Andrews said. “But if you go to Connecticut, or any blue state, the difference between a parochial or small independent private school and public school per-pupil cost is enormous, sometimes three or four times the difference [in Southern schools]. A parochial school in Hartford may cost $4,000 versus the cost per-pupil [in government schools] of $24,000.”
A superior court judge ordered a complete revision of Connecticut’s K-12 funding system in September 2016. Andrews says ESAs would solve the problem.
“The judge said there’s more than enough money in the system; the problem is how it’s being spent,” Andrews said. “ESAs are the only program that is affordable and addresses the judge’s concern of helping children with learning disabilities.
“Our proposal has real relevance in Connecticut because of the savings and because of this judge’s decision,” Andrews said.
‘The Evolution of Education’
Lueken, director of fiscal policy and analysis at EdChoice, says ESAs would improve Connecticut’s education system in many ways.
“If a program is passed and set up in a way to relieve budgetary stress and have a positive net benefit for taxpayers, that would be a happy byproduct, but there are all sorts of potential benefits,” Lueken said. “I think ESAs can be a great way for Connecticut to invest in their families. They are a great way to optimize better matches between children and the education they receive and a good way to spur innovation.
“We’ve been delivering education practically the same way for decades. I think ESAs will spur the evolution of education,” Lueken said.
Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.
Lewis M. Andrews and Martin F. Lueken, “Education Savings Accounts: Empowering Kids and Saving Money in Connecticut,” The Yankee Institute, September 2017: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/education-savings-accounts-empowering-kids-and-saving-money-in-connecticut?source=policybot