Washington, D.C., public schools consistently underperform relative to the rest of the country, while having the highest per-pupil revenue in the nation.

Clearly the “spend more” model has not been working for the families of Washington, D.C.

D.C. revenue exceeds $29,000 per pupil every year, while graduation rates hover at about 64 percent and only one-third of its fourth-graders read at a proficient level. Clearly the “spend more” model has not been working for the families of Washington, D.C.

In a new Heritage Foundation research report published by Matthew Ladner, he explains that “despite decades of overall progress, pub­lic education in the District of Columbia remains troubled, with significant room for improvement. Coupled with sky high per-pupil spending, far too few District students acquire the sort of education needed to fulfill their potential.”

>>> To read the full Heritage Foundation report: Power to the People: Putting D.C. Parents in Charge of K-12 Education

Moreover, Ladner explains how the distribution of funding in the federal city makes little sense:

From an equity standpoint, it is difficult to justi­fy the District’s school finance system. The system routinely provides $29,000 for high-income stu­dents attending regular public schools. It provides $14,000 for high-income students attending charter schools but only a maximum of $8,381 for some low-income students who would like to attend a private school system that improves the chances for gradua­tion by approximately 21 percent.

Ladner goes on to describe how access to education savings accounts could dramatically improve D.C.’s sub-par education record. Education savings accounts give parents about 90 percent of what the state (or in this case, the District) would have spent on that child that year. With this account, parents can completely customize their child’s education by choosing from a variety of schools, educational services, and products. Many families in states with education savings account options are even using their leftover education savings account funds to save for their children’s college educations.

Since Congress has jurisdiction over D.C., transitioning the District into an all education savings account district could come in one of two forms:

  1. Establish an all education savings accounts district. Through this option, funding for K-12 education in the federal city could go directly into a parent-controlled education savings accounts, enabling parents to then voluntarily contract with schools and education service providers of choice, including regular public schools, charter schools, and private schools. This creates a default option whereby every parent is a “chooser.”
  2. Create a stand-alone education savings accounts program to run parallel with existing options. This option would take the form of a stand-alone education savings account program that is universally available to all D.C. students. Families would opt in to the education savings accounts program and could then use funds to pay for private school tuition and other education-related services and products, in a manner similar to the five other states with existing education savings accounts programs.

“Establishing education savings accounts for every D.C. child would create unparalleled options for District families, empowering those children from low-income families in particular who have had few choices in the past. It would enable families to send their children to any school of choice, but also to purchase additional educational tools—such as text books, online courses, and educational therapies—to have the greatest chance of success for their children,” Ladner explains.

If Congress established Washington, D.C., as an education savings accounts district, it would be the 6th program in the United States to embrace this truly innovative and empowering educational method.

Currently, Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Florida all have education savings accounts programs. Ladner tells the story of Marc Ashton, whose son Max was able to experience the transformative power of completely tailored education savings accounts enable. Max is legally blind, and as his father Marc explains, “[we] paid for Max to get the best education in Arizona, plus all of his Braille, all of his technology, and then there was still money left over to put towards his college education[.] … So he is going to be able to go on to Loyola Marymount University, because we were able to save money, even while sending him to the best school in Arizona.”

>>> Read The Foundation for Excellence in Education’s “Education Savings Account Toolkit

Instead of continuing to funnel dollars into a system with a revenue steam equal to $29,400 per pupil annually—enough to send three students to a state university in many cases—Congress should restructure education funding in the District so it is entirely student-centered, portable, and customizable. As Ladner explains:

Rather than have politicians attempt to restruc­ture or ‘reform’ DCPS, policymakers should free District parents to reform education from the bot­tom-up[.] … [P]olicymakers should establish an equitably funded education sav­ings account for all DC children. Congress should follow the lead of states like Arizona and Nevada, and create an education savings account program that is universally avail­able to all District students.