ESAs and Accountability

If Georgia were to follow Nevada’s example and approve universal Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) next year, how would we handle accountability?

Matthew Ladner has some helpful guidance in this article written for the Fordham Institute, “New tools for new challenges: Updating accountability for ESAs.”

He notes that we should not assume that all public dollars are held accountable, since “high school students have been doing ‘dual enrollment’ in community colleges for decades. How do states hold community colleges accountable for student outcomes? Unfortunately, they generally don’t.” The same holds true, he notes, for classes not measures by state tests, such as foreign language courses.

He notes that Arizona’s experience is helpful. They have found it more effective to have a “white list” of approved vendors rather than “black list” of unapproved vendors. “Every purchase by participating parents gets scrutinized and every account audited. If parents make a purchase judged to be outside of allowable uses, the department can have parents reimburse the account. Serious violations can result in expulsion from the program and/or referral for criminal prosecution. The department considers white-listing into the program by parental request and makes rulings based on the statute and administrative guidelines. Arizona’s program administrators use vendor codes to allow service providers into the program.”

He suggests that technology might enable other forms of accountability. “Greatschools already collects parent reviews of schools, and online platforms allow students to rate college professors. Can you imagine allowing parents and service providers to access aggregated data? Are you a lousy service provider with bad results and high prices? How about a demanding and inflexible customer with unreasonable expectations?”

One sentence sums up the article nicely: “Welcome to the exciting world of voluntary exchange with technology-enabled hyper-transparency.”

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