COVID legacy

Emergency Education Savings Accounts would help families and school districts.

In order to address the unexpected expenses related to the COVID-19 shutdown, policymakers should provide families with K-12 emergency education savings accounts (ESAs). These would not only assist families and students with at-home learning during extended school closures but also help parents address any unsatisfactory instruction and access alternative educational options for their child.

As Minnesota’s once-forecasted budget surplus has turned into a multibillion-dollar deficit, schools will face budget challenges in a post-COVID economy, especially given many were already in the red before the pandemic hit. And private schools face an even higher risk of closing altogether.

ESAs would help school districts save thousands of dollars without asking for spending increases that the state can’t afford. For one, ESAs are usually funded significantly below per-pupil spending at district schools because the funds are typically a percentage of what the state would have spent to educate the student in a public school.

Eligible families receive these funds— often in the form of a debit card—to help pay for education-related products and services. The government already sets aside tax dollars for every child’s education, but in an ESA, the money is able to follow the child. Given the numerous COVID-19 related concerns facing education, ESAs could be a solution to address a variety of these concerns, ensure students can continue learning safely, and help with learning losses that could carry over into the next school year.

ESAs could also help private schools survive the coronavirus and prevent an influx of students into public schools that may already be struggling with oversize classrooms. Giving parents the opportunity to choose their preferred education setting for their child would help enable smaller classes and reduce transmission of the virus. If 20 percent of private school students have to be reabsorbed into the public system, that will cost the public system roughly $15 billion nationwide, according to The Foundation for Excellence.

Minnesota could fund ESAs by using some of the education allocations from the CARES Act, of which the state qualifies for around $91 million.

The coronavirus pandemic has confirmed there are glaringly obvious gaps and inequities in different forms in our education system. In response, policymakers have the opportunity to address these disparities and shake up the status quo instead of simply rushing to restore it.