Cruz's new bill gives parents the power of the purse
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Imagine the power to customize every aspect of a child’s education. Imagine giving parents the power of the purse, control over education funding, so they can shop for the educational tools that best fit their kids' needs. 

The recently introduced “Educational Freedom Accounts Act” would make every student at Washington, DC, schools, public and charter, eligible for an Education Savings Account. These non-taxable accounts would receive up to 90 percent of the public education funding that would have been spent on that child by the school district, but instead of the district spending it, parents would have the power to choose the educational programs to spend that money on. 

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The bill, introduced by Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzGOP wrestles with soaring deductibles in healthcare bill Cruz: Tax reform chances ‘drop significantly’ if healthcare fails Ex-CBO directors defend against GOP attacks on ObamaCare analysis MORE (R-Texas), would give parents and student an array of educational choices. Parents could use the Education Savings Accounts to buy tutoring services, special education therapy, textbooks, online courses, educational software like Rosetta Stone foreign language tools, pay extra-curricular activity fees, and take individual courses at public or charter schools. 

Every child is different and learns in different ways. Educational Savings Accounts recognize this and offer the promise of delivering “boutique” educations on a mass scale, personalized to suit every child. 

Giving parents direct control over their children’s educational futures invests them in ensuring those resources are well spent. In their 1980 classic, Free to Choose, Rose and Milton Friedman noted that people tend to be more concerned about getting quality when spending their own money on themselves. People tend to be less concerned about cost and quality, the Friedmans argued, when they are spending other people’s money on someone else. 

Public education mostly involves other people’s money being spent on other people’s children. District of Columbia Public Schools spent approximately $18,000 per pupil in 2013.  And yet, in the same year, DC Public Schools’ students ranked third worst in the country in fourth grade reading and math test scores. The district’s eighth graders scored even worse, ranking last in the nation in reading and math, according to the National Assessment for Educational Progress. 

DC’s kids deserve better. And taxpayers deserve a better return-on-investment for all that per pupil spending.

Education Savings Accounts can empower parents and help change the rules of the game. They line up all right financial incentives to seek out quality. Parents who have control over education funding, and are spending it to help enrich and educate their own children, are going to be more likely to shop around, seek out quality and hold educators accountable. 

Education Savings Accounts have already been tested in Arizona, recently implemented in Florida, and passed in Mississippi, Nevada, and Tennessee. Arizona has had the accounts in place since 2011. After trying the accounts, 100 percent of parents said they were satisfied with the program and 71 percent were “very satisfied.” You don't see numbers like that very often.

Cruz's Education Freedom Accounts Act would build upon school choice reforms that have been helping low-income families escape DC's failing public schools. The DC Opportunity Scholarship program for low-income families improved student outcomes drastically, raising graduation rates from around 60 percent to 90 percent. And DC’s charter schools have played a key role in significantly reducing racial achievement gaps over the past decade. The Education Freedom Accounts Act would be another important step to help even more parents gain access to high quality education options for their children.

Koteskey is an education policy analyst at Reason Foundation (www.reason.org).