“North Carolina Personal Education Student Accounts For Children With Disabilities Program” – A New Name For An Old Unregulated Reform With More Money

Within the wording of a new bill by the North Carolina General Assembly is a new name for an old unregulated reform that could easily be used for students in our public schools.

It starts on page 4 of HB32.

Notice that the words “Education Savings Account” have been replaced with “Education Student Accounts for Children with Disabilities.”

It’s an ESA with a different name. Rebranded but not imporved.

In my career, not many things have given me insight to how much schools in North Carolina have been hampered by under-funding and ill-gotten policies in allotment for teachers as going through an IEP process.

Remember that an IEP is a legally binding document. As a parent, I want to do everything for my own special needs child to help ensure his chances at success. As a teacher, I would want to be able to offer anything that could help a student. I see both sides. In an IEP meeting for my son, I am a parent. But as a teacher, I can reflect on how teachers and schools look at IEP’s.

The last IEP meeting we had for Malcolm was a great example of simple collaboration even if it was over a Zoom call because of the pandemic. The teachers in the virtual room wanted what was best for Malcolm. The specialists wanted was was best for Malcolm. The parents felt like they were listened to.

The people made it work. But imagine if there were more resources and time at their disposal. And does this happen at all schools?

There has been something available to parents like me and my wife for students like my son. It is called the Personal Education Savings Account. It allows for a maximum of $9,000 of taxpayer money to be used on educational services that parents or guardians deem necessary.

From edchoice.org (https://www.edchoice.org/school-choice/programs/north-carolina-personal-education-savings-accounts/):


We would qualify.  But we will not apply for it, and we would never criticize a family for using one. There truly are needs that require certain measures.

But there are a few reasons why we would not apply.

The first is that like many other endeavors in the reform minded views of lawmakers, this is highly unregulated. It is crafted much like Arizona’s program and that one has been highly abused because it is not regulated. Instances of using funds for non-educational purchases were not uncommon.

Also, if you look at the requirements, using the ESA “releases the school district from all obligations to educate the student.” That can be interpreted in a few different ways, but ultimately it absolves the school system from being responsible for the services it would have already provided if the ESA was not used. An IEP would cover it, if that IEP was constructed so. In short, it absolves the state from having to provide legally binding services by paying families to go elsewhere.

Furthermore, it would seem like taking money away from other students in a state where per-pupil expenditure still rates in the bottom rungs in the country.

If 10% of the state’s student population  is eligible for an ESA, and each of those ESA’s can go up to $9,000 per student, it makes one wonder why the state would not consider simply going ahead and adding that amount of money to the very public school that the student with special needs already attends.

In fact, it would be great if we as a family could apply for the ESA and simply give it to Malcolm’s public school.

But Raleigh made sure that was not the way it worked.

And now they want to rename it.

To make it look more legit. And this bill ramps it up even more.

Look at how broadly “disability” is now defined. (What is crossed out is older language in previous bills and laws).

And it changes the amount of money available.

Again, why not allow that money to be used in the local public school of the recipient?

Because the state would still have to legally provide for the everything the child needs as stipulated in an IEP if the child is in a public school.