New School Choice ESA Proposal for Gifted and Talented Students Earns Bipartisan Support in Wisconsin

In every neighborhood in America, there are “hidden figures”, children who posses special gifts and talents. Unfortunately, many of these Gifted and Talented students are not identified in poor urban or rural areas in part because their school districts no longer provide funding for gifted and talented programs. Imagine the frustration and boredom felt by a student who possesses a gift for Math but has already burned through every Math class their rural district has to offer by their sophomore year. Imagine the wasted potential of a student truly gifted in music at an urban school that no longer offers anything more than the basics.

Here’s how a new school choice reform will make a big difference:

This week, legislators from both parties in Wisconsin joined together to propose that poor students across the state be given the chance to receive a $1,000 Education Savings Account each year to purchase the classes or lessons they need to develop the full potential of their academic gift. The authors of this innovative proposal include rural Republicans and urban Democrats, and both supporters and opponents of school choice. With this school choice legislation, Gifted and Talented students who qualify for Free and Reduced Price Lunch would be eligible for this new investment in their future regardless of whether they are attending a traditional public school, an independent charter or a private school participating in one of Wisconsin’s four voucher programs.

We often hear of “no child left behind”, but this type of school choice reform would allow for the best and brightest to leap ahead.

Students could be deemed Gifted and Talented by scoring in the top 5% of any test mandated by the state from 3rd grade Reading exams, to the ACT. Because these state and national tests tend to focus only on language, Math, Science and Social Studies, school leaders could also designate students as Gifted and Talented in music, the arts, leadership and other academic areas. These Gifted and Talented Students could use the money in their account to pay for classes that develop their gifts from other schools, colleges, online providers or private instructors approved by the Department of Public Instruction.

So, that rural sophomore who has advanced through every Math class their high school offers could take Trigonometry or advanced Calculus at a nearby college, or the public school district next door. The Milwaukee student gifted in music might be able take classes to refine their talent at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music or from members of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. And if they don’t use all of the funds in their Education Savings Account in a particular year, they can roll over the unused funds into the next academic year.

Most of the focus in education reform today is appropriately on students who are struggling to learn the basics. Our investment in these students is crucial to their success in life and critical to our nation’s success as well. We need them to possess the knowledge and the skills required for “the pursuit of happiness”. At the same time, we also need to fully develop the potential of our most gifted and talented children in every neighborhood where they live. For it is upon these “hidden figures” that our nation will depend as we reach for the stars.