(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
Oklahoma lawmakers have introduced Education Savings Account legislation. You could not ask for a more capable and committed champion than Rep. Jason Nelson and Oklahoma could benefit from the reform. Oklahoma could benefit from broadening the opportunities available to students. The Census Bureau projections for youth population increase are well above the take-up rates for private choice programs, so the public school establishment should take a deep breath before going into “the sky is falling!” mode. There is going to be plenty of students, but others demographic trends will be more problematic. The elderly population of Oklahoma will increase by 53% by 2030, meaning that there will be fierce competition for public funds between health care and education, young and old.
The people who will have to provide those public dollars in 2030 include the kids in the Oklahoma public school system now. When you look at NAEP, between 25% and 36% are at full grade level proficiency depending on subject/grade level. Improving learning is not a task for 2030, but rather for right now. Oklahoma needs to improve K-12 outcomes as fast as possible, and needs to expand flexibility in the system in order to become both more effective and cost-effective in the future. The Oklahoma ESA legislation provides for eligible students with between funding 90 percent to 30 percent of the funds that would have gone to a participating child’s public school. If parents want to have a go at producing savings for the state treasury in return for the maximum possible flexibility in educational methods, it can be a mutually beneficial exchange that advantages everyone.
In addition to the possible benefits for Oklahoma students, the ESA concept itself would benefit by expanding the universe of people actively engaged in the model. We’ve only scratched the surface of what is possible here in Arizona. I am anxious to see the innovations that new teams people in other states develop-new methods to educate students, new ways to oversee accounts, etc. I’m hoping that the next laboratory of reform fires up the beakers in 2014.