How do other states do education savings accounts?

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Throughout the intractable impasse over Gov. Greg Abbott’s priority education savings accounts, lawmakers on each side of the contentious issue have pointed to other states’ models, finding both cautionary tales and lessons to emulate.

ESAs around the nation:

esa nationwide
All highlighted states have implemented voucher-like programs. Red states are led by Republican governors.

Of the 20 states that have established programs similar to Texas’ pending legislation, eight offer nearly “universal” school choice programs. Fifteen are led by Republican governors. The issue has become a rallying point for conservatives and a coveted résumé point for top Republican officials.

Nearly all of these states’ programs started small, often reserved for low income households and children with special needs.

Tennessee, for example, is operating a pilot program that offers subsidies to students in just three counties. Gov. Bill Lee is expected to announce a plan to expand that statewide on Tuesday, pitching a subsidy of about $7,000 for 20,000 students.

Down in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a universal school choice program in March after initially supporting a more limited program. Florida initially reserved the subsidies to residents who could show financial need, but as of March, all residents are eligible with no cap on income or participation.

Everything’s bigger in Texas

Texas faces unique challenges in implementing a universal education savings account program. The 20 states with their own programs serve a combined total of about 17 million public school students across about 5,000 school districts. Texas alone has more than five million public school students in more than a 1,000 school districts.

The state with the second-most students that offers private school subsidies is Florida, with about 2.8 million students.

The state with the second-most school districts is Ohio, with just 615.

The sheer challenges of scale in Texas have made some Republicans and Democrats skeptical that the state can afford a universal program.

But Abbott has said he would not settle for anything less. His preferred language in House Bill 1 would offer families $10,500 per child, but at the bill’s current funding levels, it would cover only a small fraction of Texas public school students.

Applicants would be prioritized based on need and income according to this scale provided by the Texas House Select Committee on Educational Enrichment and Opportunity:

Priority Group 1 – Children with a disability who are members of a household
with total annual income that is at or below 400 percent of federal poverty limit.
Priority Group 2 – Members of a household with a total annual income that is at
or below 185 percent of the federal poverty limit.
Priority Group 3 – Children who are members of a household with a total annual
income that is above 185 percent and below 400 percent of the federal poverty
Priority Group 4 – Children who are members of a household with total annual
income that is at or above 400 percent of the federal poverty limit.

This language remains nothing but an idea, however. A bipartisan group of lawmakers voted to kill all provisions for education savings accounts in the Texas House’s massive education omnibus bill in mid-November.

Abbott has previously said he would call lawmakers back in “December, January, February” if they do not send him a bill including “universal school choice.” On Monday, he did not commit to calling a fifth special session.

“You gotta stay tuned,” he said.

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