Our nation’s capitol is leading the way in educational choice. A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate this week would significantly expand school choice in the District of Columbia. The “Educational Freedom Accounts Act,” if enacted, will provide families residing in the District who choose to participate, with a publicly funded, flexible education spending account that can be used to fully customize their children’s educations. The funds deposited in these Freedom Accounts could be spent on a wide array of educational services, including, but not limited to, private school tuition, distance or online learning, tutoring, and special education services.
Washington already has one private educational choice program, the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), which serves low-income families, but the ability to take advantage of the OSP remains limited, due to its limited budget, meaning there is a wait-list for families who want to participate in the OSP. In 2016, 2,349 students applied for the OSP. But only enough money was available to fund 234 scholarships, meaning over 90 percent of students who applied and were otherwise eligible for scholarships were forced to stay in the schools that are likely not serving their needs. The Educational Freedom Accounts Act, however, would make all students in the District of Columbia eligible to participate, if they wish to do so.
The Educational Freedom Accounts Act is modeled on Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program, the nation’s first Education Savings Account (ESA) program. The Institute for Justice helped pioneer Arizona’s ESA program and later successfully defended it in court. Since the creation of the program in Arizona, ESAs have been growing in popularity: to date, six programs exist in six different states. As ESA programs continue to be introduced across the country, families are being introduced to a new approach to education – one that is more than one-size-fits-all. Parents are being empowered their pre-existing constitutional right to genuinely direct the education and upbringing of their children, rather than being restricted by their zip code to attend whatever public school happens to serve the neighborhood where they live.
As the bill’s sponsor, Senator Ted Cruz, stated when he introduced the bill, “Every child should have the opportunity to achieve their dreams, regardless of race, class, or zip code.” If the bill is enacted, students residing in the District of Columbia will no longer have to dream about the education they could have. The Education Freedom Accounts Act will afford them the means to make their dreams a reality immediately.