(This is the second in a series of posts clearing up misconceptions that opponents of school choice are spreading in the
Legislation being debated in Missouri’s House and Senate this year would create the state’s first-ever Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA), a program designed to give families more control over their children’s education.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation floating around the capitol about what an ESA is, how it is funded and how it works.
One key misconception is that the ESA proposed in Missouri is the same as voucher programs offered in other states.
While both types of programs give parents access to more school choices, there are some very key differences which make ESAs a much better option for the state and for families.
Vouchers provide direct public funding for private school education in the form of a voucher that parents can use to cover some or all of tuition at a private school. In a voucher program, the funding goes directly to the school which would be unconstitutional under Missouri’s Blaine Amendment.
An ESA is a scholarship funded by private donations (more on this below) that families can use for a wide range of education options. ESAs have successfully been proven to be constitutionally valid in other states.
Empowerment Scholarships Accounts would provide funding directly to the family and allow them to choose what is best for their children.
Families would be able to use Empowerment Scholarships to pay for tuition at another district or charter public school, pay for tuition at a private school, or use the funds to help homeschool or supplement other education options by employing a private tutor, purchasing textbooks, paying fees for Advanced Placement exams, or contracting for specialized therapies.
In some states, school choice initiatives are directly funded through the state budget.
The Empowerment Scholarship Accounts proposed in Missouri would NOT be funded through general state revenue.
The proposed ESA plan would be funded by private donations from individuals and business given to nonprofit scholarship granting organizations. In return, the donors would receive a tax credit.
This means that no funding for ESAs would ever move through the state budget.
Families participating in the ESA program would apply for a scholarship and, once awarded one, would receive those funds on a debit card and be able to use the funds for the education expenses they determine are best for their children.
Families would not receive tax credits, but instead actual funding to cover educational expenses.
This means that an ESA would be very beneficial for low-income families who cannot already afford to access educational alternatives.
Families who can afford private school tuition can receive a tax deduction for contributing to a 529 plan and using those funds to pay the private school tuition, but this is totally unrelated to any Empowerment Scholarship Account proposals in Missouri.
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