Working to ensure all Pennsylvania children will have access to the educational resources they need to succeed, Sen. Judy Ward (R-Blair/Fulton/Cumberland/Franklin/Huntingdon) and Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter) have introduced legislation that would create new scholarship accounts for students whose education was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Senate Bill 1230 and House Bill 2696 each propose to create Back on Track Education Scholarship Accounts (ESA) to empower parents by providing the funding they need to offset educational costs for their school-age children in grades K-12. The scholarships are needed now more than ever as parents are becoming increasingly worried school shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic will have long-term effects on their children’s education.

“With the coronavirus, there is more need than ever for flexible education options since schools closed and families are bearing increased expenses from at-home learning,” Ward said. “These ESAs will help students, regardless of the type of school they attend, make up for lost schooling and give parents some vital financial help to get their children the educational resources they need.”

Like health savings accounts or EBT cards for food stamps, funds in Back on Track ESAs could only be used for approved education-related purchases, such as tuition, online classes, curriculum, tutoring, counseling and services for students with special needs.

“As a father of four, I recognize the opportunities to educate our children are fleeting. When a student falls behind, it’s important to get him or her caught up as soon as possible because every lesson is a building block for the next lesson,” Owlett said. “In the uncertain and unprecedented times we face, we have a responsibility to give parents every tool possible to ensure their kids get back on track and stay on track with their education, regardless of where they do their learning.”

Parents would receive $1,000 per child in the scholarship account, which would come from a portion of the state’s federal CARES Act funds. School-age children who currently qualify for Pennsylvania’s free or reduced-cost lunch program would have priority in applying for the ESAs.

After the initial application period, any school-age child would be eligible on a first-come, first-served basis.

If the law is enacted, Back on Track ESA accounts would be administered by the Pennsylvania Treasury, much like the existing 529 program.

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