Thursday, March 17, 2016

In a down budget year, ESAs can help

Some state lawmakers declined to support Education Savings Accounts this year on the grounds that the state couldn't afford them. But as The Oklahoman noted yesterday ("Conservative policy takes a hit with Oklahoma ESA decision"), "the math of ESAs blows that claim out of the water."
ESAs would provide parents around $3,500 to $4,000 per child. Based on state data reported to the federal government, Ben Scafidi, a professor at Kennesaw State University, notes Oklahoma spent about $8,716 per student in 2009. 
This means ESAs would allow the state to provide the same or better quality education to a student for $4,000 to $5,000 less than what officials would otherwise spend, while freeing up the remainder for other students. Note to Republicans: In a down budget year, that's a good thing. 
According to a Department of Education estimate, perhaps $14.6 million might go to ESAs next year. None of that money is diverted from education; it's only shifted from one school to another. Yet some lawmakers still said $14.6 million is an unaffordable “cost” to schools. But then an overwhelming majority of House members supported a bill mandating new Medicaid spending on autism therapy at an additional cost of $22 million. 
In a year of budget shortfall, that $22 million for Medicaid is money that won't go to education. So lawmakers who claimed they couldn't “afford” to provide a quality education to students for $4,000 per student less at a phantom “cost” of $14.6 million somehow saw no problem with truly diverting up to $22 million from education. Republicans wound up choosing to prioritize inefficient education spending over efficient spending in the name of protecting school funds they were simultaneously voting to divert elsewhere, while abandoning their longtime supporters to cater to a minority of voters who are hostile to Republicans.
According to a fiscal analysis performed by the Friedman Foundation, the state of Oklahoma will save $267,000 for every $1 million it spends on an ESA program. Click here to see how.

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