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Brian Thomas

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Buckeye Institute - New Ohio Education Savings Account Program

This piece was first published byExcelinEd.

As was the case across the nation, school closures during 2020 and 2021 compelled Ohio administrators, teachers, parents and students to adapt to online learning, revised curricula and new at-home study arrangements. As states recover from the pandemic’s residual effects heading into the new school year, flexibility in education remains critical for students.

This past legislative session, lawmakers invested in several student-centered policies that acknowledge the ongoing need for flexibility, innovation and affordability as families navigate uncharted academic waters for their K-12 students. The new Afterschool Child Enrichment (ACE) program helps parents choose and pay for the kinds of educational services their students need to succeed in school.

What are Education Savings Accounts?

In general, ESAs deposit state education dollars in designated savings accounts for parents to spend on educational supplies and services such as tutoring, curricula, books, and learning software. ESAs start from the premise that parents know best what their children need, and they offer parents financial assistance to meet those needs. Empowerment and flexibility.

Education Savings Accounts Across the Country

The ACE program is one of many new ESA programs that have been created this year.Indiana,New Hampshire, andWest Virginiaall enacted ESAs in the last legislative session. KentuckyandMissouriboth created ESAs that are funded by tax credits.Floridaexpanded its existing ESA program. These developments indicate that a growing interest in ESAs is sweeping across the country.

How the Ohio ACE Program Will Work

Ohio’s new ACE program will provide families at or below 300 percent of thefederal poverty guidelines—or roughly $79,500 for a family of four—with $500 per K-12 student, per year for 2022 and 2023. The state’s Department of Education is still drafting ACE’s fine print, but preliminary indications suggest that ACE funding will be available to eligible students on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The ACE program takes a good first step toward more parent empowerment, but it has its limitations. ESA programs like those already up and running in Arizona and Florida allow parents to pay for additional academic equipment and services such as computers, software and online courses tailored to fit their student’s specific learning needs. And a fuller ESA protocol allowing unused ESA funds to roll-over from year to year would help parents pay for more higher-priced secondary education.

Continued Investment in Educational Choice

This year, policymakers also enhanced and protected Ohio’s other educational choice programs, including:

  • Eliminating caps, for example, on the number of vouchers available through the EdChoice Scholarship, Ohio’s largest school choice initiative, allowing more families to take advantage of vouchers.
  • Raising the amounts available in Ohio’s five other voucher programs and allows those amounts to rise along with general school funding increase in subsequent budgets, helping families cover rising education expenses.
  • Establishing tax credits for home schooling expenses and donations to scholarship granting organizations, making home and private schooling more affordable for more families.
  • Safeguarding the state’s method of funding vouchers, protecting families who rely on vouchers against the threat of future anti-educational choice governors using the line-item veto to eliminate these essential education options with the stroke of a pen.
  • Removing geographic limitations on charter schools, bolstering public school options available to students.

Thanks to these new initiatives, Ohio has empowered parents and protected students. As children return to the classroom and families recover from the pandemic’s disruptive and uncertain consequences, Ohio has done well to budget more flexibility, innovation, and affordability for learning—the ABCs of student-first education.

Greg R. Lawson is a research fellow at The Buckeye Institute. Tim Abram is the associate policy director of educational opportunity forExcelinEd.

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