Joint legislation introduced in the Missouri General Assembly would create a program providing Missouri children with access to education savings accounts (ESA): the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program.

With an ESA, state education funds allocated for a child are placed in a parent-controlled savings account. 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, SAs could be used to pay for tuition and fees at private and parochial schools, as well as textbooks, tutoring services, computer hardware, summer education programs, and educational therapies. The ESAs could also be used to cover the fees required to take national standardized achievement tests, such as the SAT or ACT.

Funds for the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program would be provided in a way that is similar to how tax-credit scholarship programs are funded. Individuals and businesses would receive a tax credit equal to 100 percent of the amount of a contribution made to fund the program, so long as the claimed tax credit does not exceed 50 percent of the taxpayer’s liability for the tax year for which the credit is claimed. These contributions and the ESA accounts they fund would be managed by state-sanctioned “educational assistance organizations.” The state would cap the maximum amount of contributions to the program at $50 million per year. 

A Show-Me Institute analysis found an ESA program funded in the proposed fashion could save Missouri school districts up to $39 million a year with a combined state and local net fiscal impact of over $57 million in savings a year. The space for Empowerment Scholarship Account students is readily available, as another Show-Me Institute report estimates there are 28,000 open seats available in Missouri private schools.

Copious empirical research on ESAs, their sister voucher programs, and tax-credit scholarships finds these programs offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances. Moreover, these programs improve access to schools that deliver quality education inexpensively. Additionally, these programs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices. Students at private schools are also 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. 

It is probably for these reasons that ESAs are more popular with parents than ever before. The results of EdChoice’s sixth annual Schooling in America survey, released in December 2018, found 74 percent of respondents favor ESAs, up 3 percentage points from 2017. According to the survey, support for ESAs is 76 percent among Millennials, 72 percent for those with incomes under $40,000 a year, 79 percent for blacks, 70 percent for Hispanics, 72 percent among self-identified Democrats, and 77 percent among independents. Furthermore, 78 percent of public school teachers surveyed support ESA programs.

The school a child attends should not be determined solely by his or her ZIP code. However, this is currently the case for almost all Missouri children. The goal of public education in the Show Me 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 the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program, can help ensure more Missouri children have the opportunity to attend a quality school.

The following documents provide more information on education savings accounts.

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.