Utah Lawmaker Charts Bold Plan to Empower Students for Excellent Education

Over and over again I have said that serious outside-the-box thinking is needed to push American schooling toward excellence that affords families a wide array of challenging and effective options to serve them best. In that light Matt Ladner brings our attention to a bold and visionary education transformer, who just so happens to be one of our neighbors to the west.

A column in last Friday’s Salt Lake Tribune indicates that the Utah legislature will be considering a dramatic proposal that could greatly empower families to customize education:

Legislation proposed by Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork, would give each high school student in Utah an individual education savings account, sort of like a debit card, and that student could use that money any way he or she wanted toward earning a diploma….

The plan would put into the student’s account nearly $6,000 a year under the assumption a typical high school class costs a school district about $700. The account would cover up to eight classes per year, with the ability of rolling the money over to the next year if the entire $6,000 was not spent.

Sounds to me like a more expansive version of Arizona’s new Empowerment Scholarship Accounts for special-needs students. While many naysayers dismiss the forward-thinking plan, the worst I can think to say is that perhaps the idea might be ahead of its time.

Given the growth of blended learning through technological and other innovations, though, shouldn’t we be doing more to enable students to customize their educational experiences? Yes, let’s let the money follow the student to the course level! After all what are we trying to accomplish: Fund government agencies that oversee schools or fund students (ahem, whom I might mention are the future)?

Working out the details will have to be done. But since when did we let that keep us from accomplishing bold objectives — like going to the moon? We’re not talking about risky reforms to curricula, programs and educational philosophies so common in bygone days. We’re talking about shifting the levers of power to serve students, the customers of K-12 education, first and foremost. Let the discussions proceed.