Policy Tip Sheet: Education Savings Accounts in Pennsylvania

Published October 19, 2017


Too many public schools in Pennsylvania are failing to adequately prepare students for productive lives. Keystone State public schools are delivering too few graduates with the reading, writing, knowledge, and workplace skills necessary to meet the challenges of a global economy in the twenty-first century.

Per-pupil spending in public schools in Pennsylvania has never been higher, yet student test scores are stagnant. Nationwide, over half of all parents say they are dissatisfied with the public education system.

Parents should be allowed to choose the schools their children attend and not be penalized financially if that choice is a private religious or secular school.

Policy Solution

Proposed legislation would establish an education savings account (ESA) program for children attending the lowest performing 15 percent of public schools in the commonwealth. Under this ESA, education funds allocated for a child would be placed in a parent-controlled savings account. Parents could then use the funds to pay for the resources chosen for their child’s unique educational program, such as tuition at a private or parochial school, tutoring programs, online classes, specialized therapies, textbooks, and even the fees for national standardized achievement tests like the SAT and ACT. The maximum scholarship amount would be $5,700 per student, mirroring the commonwealth’s per-pupil pubic school funding level. Unused ESA funds could be rolled over from year to year and saved to pay for future college expenses. Over 220,000 students would be able to take advantage of the program.

Although similar to school vouchers, ESAs are more versatile, giving parents increased flexibility in tailoring an education to their child’s needs. Six states (Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Tennessee) have already enacted ESA programs.

ESAs are popular with parents because they provide to them their fundamental right to direct the education of their children.

Policy Message

Point 1: Pennsylvania public schools are failing to adequately educate children, many of whom have no other educational options available.

Point 2: The overwhelming majority of the available empirical evidence shows education choice offers families equal access to high-quality schools and does so at a lower cost.

Point 3: Republican, Democrat, black, and Hispanic respondents all show majority support for ESA programs, and polling of ESA parents finds an incredibly high level of satisfaction with the program.

Point 4: Twenty-eight percent of parents use ESA funds to pay for multiple learning services.

Point 5: Thirty-one percent of all ESA funds were saved in 2016, with $67,000 accumulated for college savings plans.

Point 6: ESAs give all families a greater opportunity to meet their child’s unique education needs.

Point 7: When parents are given the opportunity to choose, every school must compete and improve, which gives more children the chance to attend a quality school.


Timothy Benson, “Education Savings Accounts: The Future of School Choice Has Arrived,” Policy Brief, The Heartland Institute, June 20, 2017: https://heartland.org/_templateassets/documents/publications/ESA%20policy%20brief.pdf

Greg Forster, A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition), EdChoice, May 18, 2016: www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/A-Win-Win-Solution-The-Empirical-Evidence-on-School-Choice.pdf

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For more information, contact The Heartland Institute at 312/377- 4000 or by email at [email protected], or visit our website at www.heartland.org.