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Joe Connor: Preparing Alabama families for ESAs

With the recent passage of the CHOOSE Act, Alabama is part of a growing number of states implementing Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Unlike traditional vouchers, ESAs offer students educational choices that focus on learning and development. Parents also value this approach, which gives them the freedom to choose what's best for their children, as evidenced by the growing demand for ESAs in states that have enacted the programs.

Just as every student has different needs, every state's ESA situation is different. Last year, Odyssey worked with the State of Iowa to implement the state's first ESA program, Iowa Students First. We knew the program had to work seamlessly for Iowa students and their families. The first step was to understand the needs of parents, participating schools, and vendors and set them up for success.

One of the priorities was to design an ESA program that was efficient to access and use. Leveraging Odyssey's technology, the State of Iowa was able to deploy the nation's first real-time identity verification capability as part of its Students First ESA program. This innovative feature allows parents to determine their eligibility for the program in seconds. The program also offers customer support 7 days a week, including nights and weekends, to answer any questions that may arise during or after onboarding.

It's also important that parents know in advance what they can purchase through the program. Vendors should be able to sell only pre-approved goods and services, and product validation will be a required tool for any platform the state develops. Third-party auditors have confirmed that nearly 100% of purchases on Odyssey's marketplace are eligible expenses. This approach helps ensure that fraud, waste, and abuse are eliminated, which is essential for Alabama's ESA program to reach its full potential.

Odyssey's experience shows that innovative features and customization capabilities are key considerations for ESA program administrators. Governor Kay Ivey and the state Legislature are committed to setting up Alabama families for educational success. Odyssey applauds the swift action on ESAs during the 2024 Regular Session and encourages all stakeholders to closely track the implementation of the legislation.

Joe Connor is the founder and CEO of Odyssey, an education technology company.

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