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“Backpack Scholarships” Offer New Promise to Ohio Kids

October 7, 2021

October 7, 2021
By Jennifer Tiedemann

What goes in a kid’s backpack when they go to school? Books, pencils, and maybe even a shot at a better education.

That’s the case in Ohio, where on Wednesday, House Republicans announced a new plan to give every school-age child an Education Savings Account (ESA) starting in the summer of 2023. Students from kindergarten through 8th grade would receive $5,500, and high school students would receive $7,500, in a private account, and their families could use the money for educational expenses from tuition to tutoring to teaching tools to educational therapies. So if the traditional public school experience just isn’t working for a child, their families would be better able to pay for the educational options that match their needs.

Dubbed “backpack scholarships,” the idea is that these accounts would follow a child throughout their school years—just like a backpack would. And while ESA programs in some states are limited—to those who live in failing school districts, for example—Ohio’s proposal would be wide-ranging, eliminating existing limitations on Ohio’s current school choice programs.

This Ohio news is part of a growing trend in favor of educational choice and opportunity. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in increased popularity for educational options to fill the vacuum created by shuttered schools and deficient virtual education experience that left many kids behind. Homeschooling, microschools, and learning pods have become increasingly common, because it’s clear that a one-size-fits-all approach to education just doesn’t work for students who are learn on different schedules via different learning styles.

And the trend is carrying over into smart policies on the state level. The Goldwater Institute pioneered the nation’s first Education Savings Account program in our home state of Arizona back in 2011, and 10 years later, ESAs continue to expand to more students. Today, nearly 10,000 students across the country are using ESAs. As Goldwater Director of Education Policy Matt Beienburg writes in a brand-new report assessing the impacts of Arizona’s ESA program, ESAs or related legislation are now on the books in 10 states, with half of those new programs enacted in 2021 alone. Earlier this year, for instance, Kentucky passed into law new Education Opportunity Accounts that will provide tax-credit funded scholarships allowing families to pay for tutoring, textbooks, private school tuition, and more. West Virginia passed its own legislation to make ESAs accessible to more than 90% of the state’s students, and New Hampshire, Missouri, and Indiana all likewise established brand new ESA programs for their children.

For the sake of Ohio students, here’s hoping the Buckeye State is the next to embrace this policy to help give students the education they need to succeed.

You can read more about how ESAs are a game-changing option for students and families in Goldwater’s home state of Arizona here.

Jennifer Tiedemann is the Deputy Director of Communications at the Goldwater Institute.



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