Testimony Before the North Dakota House Education Committee on Education Choice

Bette Grande Heartland Institute
Published January 21, 2019

Chairman Owens, and members of the Committee, thank you for taking the time today to discuss this important issue. The Heartland Institute, founded in 1984, is an independent, national nonprofit organization whose mission is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems. My name is Bette Grande, a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.

Legislation has been introduced many times in the past and again this session regarding Educational Savings Accounts (ESA) and other forms of “school choice”, yet none have moved forward to be implemented. House bill 1464 would be the opportunity to look over the various programs that North Dakota families are missing out on in the education of their children.

Educational Savings Accounts are just one of many types of educational choice that should be examined in order to allow parents the opportunity to provide the best educational plan for each of their children. Not every child learns the same way. Not every family has the means to add support to the educational plans of their children. Not every public school can meet the needs of each child.

“With an ESA, state education funds allocated for a child are placed in a parent-controlled savings account,” wrote Tim Benson, policy analyst at Heartland. “Parents then use a state-provided debit card to access the funds to pay for the resources chosen for their child’s unique educational program. Under the proposed program, ESAs could be used to pay for tuition and fees at private and parochial schools, as well as textbooks, tutoring services, educational therapies, and transportation costs. ESAs could also be used to cover the fees required to take national standardized achievement tests, such as the SAT or ACT,” explained Benson.

Benson continued, “Leftover funds would carry over each year of the child’s eligibility and would be available to help pay for tuition at postsecondary schools. These leftover funds could also be used to fund in part a 529 or 530 college savings plan. Funding for each ESA would equal 75 percent of the state government’s annual contribution to public schools.”

There are many programs that could be reviewed during the interim beyond ESA; there are voucher programs, tax credit scholarships, and individual tax credit/deductions. Many states have implemented the various programs, and the study would allow for the committee to review and understand the types of programs and determine what is best for the students of North Dakota.

With an increase in the cyber bullying and challenges for some students due to bullying, safety
has become an important issue for parents. Child Safety Accounts, as developed by Heartland, are being introduced in some states to give victimized students access to a safe learning environment.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Bette Grande
Research Fellow
The Heartland Institute

The following documents provide more information on education savings accounts:

Education Savings Accounts: The Future of School Choice Has Arrived 
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Policy Analyst Tim Benson discusses how universal ESA programs offer the most comprehensive range of educational choices to parents; describes the six ESA programs currently in operation; and reviews possible state-level constitutional challenges to ESA programs.

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.

2018 Schooling in America Survey: Public Opinion on K–12 Education, Parent and Teacher Experiences, Accountability, and School Choice 
This annual survey from EdChoice, conducted in partnership with Braun Research, Inc., measures public opinion and awareness on a range of K–12 education topics, including parents’ schooling preferences, educational choice policies, and the federal government’s role in education. The survey also records response levels, differences, and intensities for citizens located across the country and in a variety of demographic groups.

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.