Research & Commentary: ESA Bills Provides Help for Low-Income, Special Needs, Bullied Georgia Students

Published January 17, 2020

Matching proposals in the Georgia General Assembly would establish an education savings account (ESA) program for low-income students, students with special needs, bullied students, students in foster care, and students of active duty military members has been recently introduced. If passed, the ESAs would be available to parents of public school children to pay for tuition and fees at private and parochial schools. The funds could also be used to pay for textbooks, tutoring services, transportation costs, computers and other approved hardware, online courses, dual-enrollment courses, and educational therapies and services.

In the first year of the program, the number of participating students would be capped at “an amount equivalent to one-half of 1 percent of the state-wide total public school enrollment in the 2018–19 school year.” The enrollment cap would increase by another one-half of 1 percent each year until it tops out at 5 percent of the state-wide total public school enrollment. The funding amount of each account would be equivalent to 100 percent of the amount allotted per pupil under the state’s school aid formula. 

Copious empirical research on school choice programs finds they offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances, and that these programs improve academic performance and attainment and deliver a quality education at lower cost than traditional public schools. Additionally, these programs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.

Research also shows students at private schools are less likely than their public school peers to experience problems such as alcohol abuse, bullying, drug use, fighting, gang activity, racial tension, theft, vandalism, and weapon-based threats. There is also a strong causal link suggesting private school choice programs improve the mental health of participating students.

ESA programs are also extremely popular with parents. EdChoice’s seventh-annual Schooling in America survey found 77 percent of respondents in favor of ESAs, up 3 percentage points from 2018. The 77 percent ESA approval rate is the highest yet in the history of the survey.

According to the survey, support for ESAs is 80 percent among millennials, 79 percent among Generation Z, 78 percent for those with incomes less than $40,000 a year, 78 percent for blacks, 79 percent for Hispanics, 78 percent among self-identified Democrats, and 77 percent among independents. Furthermore, 78 percent of public-school teachers surveyed support ESA programs. Another 63 percent of adults surveyed support voucher programs and 68 percent support tax-credit scholarships.

These results are mirrored in the American Federation for Children’s latest annual National School Choice Poll, which shows 78 percent support for ESA programs from likely voters in the 2020 election. Support for ESAs in this poll is 84 percent among millennials, 86 percent from blacks, 84 percent from Hispanics, 85 percent from Republicans, 78 percent from independents, and 73 percent from Democrats.

Recent polling and voting in Georgia also shows Peach State voters view private school choice programs favorably. A 2017 Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll found 61 percent of registered voters in the state favor expanding school choice options. Seventy-five percent of 580,000 Republican primary voters in Georgia also voted in favor of expanding education choice options in May 2016.

The goal of public education in the Peach State should be to enable all parents, no matter their income level, to choose which schools their children attend. Public schools should not hold a monopoly on education. By implementing an ESA program, legislators can help ensure more Georgia children, specifically children that need a program like this the most, have the opportunity to attend a quality school.

The following documents can provide more information about ESAs and parental choice in education.

The 123s of School Choice
This report from EdChoice is an in-depth review of the available research on private school choice programs in America. Areas of study include: private school choice program participant test scores, program participant attainment, parent satisfaction, public school students’ test scores, civic values and practices, racial/ethnic integration and fiscal effects.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
This paper by EdChoice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

2019 Schooling in America Survey: Public Opinion on K–12 Education, Busing, Technology, and School Choice
This annual survey from EdChoice reports polling results based on a nationally representative sample of the general public, with more robust samples of parents, current public school teachers, Millennials and Generation Z than in previous editions. The survey asks  standard questions about schooling experiences and educational choice reforms, as well as hot-button K–12 subjects that seem to polarize lawmakers and advocates, including inter-district busing, teacher protests and children’s use of technology.

Protecting Students with Child Safety Accounts
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Vicki Alger, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and research fellow at the Independent Institute, and Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson detail the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and assault taking place in America’s public schools and the difficulties for parents in having their child moved from a school that is unsafe for them. Alger and Benson propose a Child Safety Account program, which would allow parents to immediately have their child moved to a safe school – private, parochial, or pub­lic – as soon as parents feel the public school their child is currently attending is too dangerous to their child’s physical or emotion­al health.

The Public Benefit of Private Schooling: Test Scores Rise When There Is More of It
This Policy Analysis from the Cato Institute examines the effect increased access to private schooling has had on international student test scores in 52 countries. The Cato researchers found that a 1 percentage point increase in the share of private school enrollment would lead to moderate increases in students’ math, reading, and science achievement.

The Effects of School Choice on Mental Health
This study from Corey DeAngelis at the Cato Institute and Angela K. Dills of Western Carolina University empirically examines the relationship between school choice and mental health. It finds that states adopting broad-based voucher programs and charter schools witness declines in adolescent suicides and suggests that private schooling reduces the number of times individuals are seen for mental health issues.

Competition: For the Children
This study from the Texas Public Policy Foundation claims universal school choice results in higher test scores for students remaining in traditional public schools and improved high school graduation rates.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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