PRESS RELEASE: Veritas Families Have Access to ESA and School Choice Funds
Podcast | 20 Minutes

A New Way to Pay For Your Child's Education | Bob Cannon

Dr. Bob Cannon Written by Dr. Bob Cannon
A New Way to Pay For Your Child's Education | Bob Cannon

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An increasing number of states are letting families take control of their tax dollars through Education Savings Accounts (and other similar programs) that provide funds for families who choose to homeschool or send their children to private school. Will your state let you use your education dollars at Veritas Press?

Listen to today’s episode for a complete list of states that are currently offering ESAs – and stay to the end to hear some exciting new ways that Veritas Scholars Academy plans to grow in the future!

Episode Transcription

Note: This transcription may vary from the words used in the original episode for better readability.

Marlin Detweiler:

Hello again. I am Marlin Detwiler, and you've joined us again for Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian education. Today I have with me two of my favorite people. My wife, Laurie and Bob Cannon.

Dr. Cannon is the headmaster of our online school. Welcome, guys. Today, we wanted to talk to you about a relatively new phenomenon called educational scholarship accounts. And it is an idea that has been brewing for a long time. Bob, you have a little historic context in that?

Bob Cannon:

I do, actually. When I was in graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania 25 plus years ago now, I remember sitting around a table. In fact, I can see it in my mind's eye where we were having a conversation about the idea of school vouchers, or even if we didn't call them vouchers. Was there some way in which private education might be funded in the way that public education is funded? And we just wondered, are we ever going to get there? Because it wasn't the first time that such a conversation was happening. It had been on the table for some time, even at that point. But we all wondered, is that ever going to actually come to pass? And here we are.

Marlin Detweiler:

We have there are 14 states that have enacted laws in recent years already. We don't know how many more are in the works. We try to stay up with this, but it's a constant moving phenomenon. There are 14 states that have ESA laws on their books. We are working very closely with a number of those states already. But Bob, I know you've got that list of states handy. So, for those of you listening, listen carefully to see if you live in a state where an ESA account is already a possibility.

Bob Cannon:

I put on the readers so that I could see my list. I'm going to roll through this quickly. The list is:

Arizona

Arkansas

Florida

Indiana

Idaho

Iowa

Mississippi

Montana

New Hampshire

North Carolina

South Carolina

Tennessee

Utah

West Virginia

Marlin Detweiler:

What that means is those states have enacted laws – and they're not uniform, so we can't talk to you about all of those states and what they're doing. But they are doing things, for the most part, that are allowing people to have funds available to them, to take those funds and apply them to an educational choice that they might make.

You might have the ability to go to a private school, you might have the ability to homeschool, You might have either of those things as possibilities as best we can tell; in virtually all of those states, it doesn't restrict things with regard to Christian education or homeschooling, but it varies a lot. And so you'll have to look at those arrangements for any given state and you can feel free to call us on our service line now to our call center and people can help you get the information that you need. Bob, talk to us a little bit and Laurie, you too, about the things that we have been able to work with so far and what we see happening.

Bob Cannon:

Laurie, may I defer to you, or would you like me to speak first?

Laurie Detweiler:

I can start, and you can hop in here. But one thing I'd tell you is if at first you look at this and you go, I don't think there's any way that this will ever go through. Don't give up, because I can't tell you how many families thought they weren't going to get the money or thought it couldn't be used toward something like live classes or self-paced courses or some curriculum that they wanted only to find out that it could. They just needed to know how to navigate their way through the system.

Marlin Detweiler:

Because we are dealing with the government!

Laurie Detweiler:

Right. And so when I first read all these new laws, I got to tell you, it was really confusing. And it's all these legalese that you just kind of throw your hands up and go, is it worth it? But I can tell you it is. I was just talking to a Florida mom the other day, and she was encouraging a friend of hers to apply this year who homeschools because she receives the $7,500 per student that Florida offers.

And she was shocked at how easy it was to do. She had to wait a little bit to get approved, but then she had those resources to use to choose how she wanted to homeschool her children. And so each state, like Marlin said, is different. But we have families that are using it and navigating with it, and it's really exciting to think that we're not having to pay for education twice–

Marlin Detweiler:

Through our tax dollars and then privately.

Laurie Detweiler:

It’s been one of those things that's been really, really helpful for families. And I see families that would have had absolutely no way of, let's say, taking live classes. It just was not economically feasible for them. And now I see them being able to do that, and that's really an exciting thing to me.

Marlin Detweiler:

Bob, what have you observed in your interactions with people seeking to apply ESA funds to our curriculum?

Bob Cannon:

Yeah, I have talked with a number of families who have been able to leverage or who were looking forward to leveraging these funding sources, and hands down, across the board, there really just isn't any other story to tell except that they're excited that this is available to them. I'm sure that there are some people in the audience who, when they hear this, are going to do kind of a double take when they heard Laurie say $7,500. That is an enormous assistance to a family. Now, not every state that we read off the list is going to give that kind of support.

Laurie Detweiler:

Florida is a good one!

Bob Cannon:

It is!

Laurie Detweiler:

And Arizona.

Bob Cannon:

Arizona is another example. So, there are states that actually have gotten to that point. And I would expect I think we all expect that in the same way that, as I said 25 years ago, we were scratching our heads wondering when is this actually going to happen? There's going to be a continuing emergence of other states joining this list.

I think that's all our expectations. And even those states that are on the list now, while they have certain practices in place today. Our hope and it's a loose expectation, but we'd like to think that these states are also going to increasingly recognize the value that comes out of supporting private education. So this is only going to get better from here.

Laurie Detweiler:

One of the things I think that is really important to make clear, because I've had to answer this question a number of times, is this is not like charter schools. Charter schools still have to stick to public school standards.

Marlin Detweiler:

They are, in fact, public schools.

Laurie Detweiler:

So what I mean by that is if you're in a classical charter school, you will not see anything Christian in the curriculum. I've got to know a headmaster really, really well who was at a charter school. And, you know, he just now he's at a classical Christian school and he is blown away by what, as he put it, he realized was missing because he wasn't able to teach children the truth.

So, you know, we want you to know we're not changing our curriculum. This is what I get asked. Have you had to change your curriculum in order for people to use this? Is it like a charter school? The answer is no. Veritas or anybody's curriculum is the same as it was. It is not meeting new standards in order for these funds to be applied.

Marlin Detweiler:

Again, even some of those things might vary state by state. Right. But there there was a ruling, and I wish I were conversant on it. Obviously, I'm not a lawyer. There's a ruling at the Supreme Court level a few years ago that opened up the window on some of these things as it relates to funds being available for private education that is a Christian education.

And then there is an understanding at a state level that these funds, say the $7,500 that Laurie mentioned in Florida is far less than what they're having to pay the public schools per student. And so there's an economic motivation at the state legislative level to say, why don't we do this? It's an economic win.

And so those are the things that have made the difference for where we are today. I don't know where this will go, Bob. I think you're right that we will see more and more states doing this. And I don't know where it might end. I know there are also people listening that might have some concern for the state putting a standards back into the money. And I'm not, especially at a family level, this idea of what might happen over the long term because of what we've seen happen in detrimental ways over the long term is almost certainly not going to be a concern at a family level because it's likely to be more than ten years before anything like that could happen.

And by then, your students are educated, they're they're grown, they're gone, and it's a non-issue. We don't know how that might play out, but that's the way that we're being told those kinds of concerns.

Laurie Detweiler:

As we talk with legislators. And we'll continue this.

Marlin Detweiler:

Bob, what have you, of the people that have been able to take advantage of this – give us some examples of what they have been able to do, and we should talk after you answer that question a little bit also about the challenges that we have in dealing with at this point, 14 states and that sort of thing.

Bob Cannon:

I'll start with the bad news and lead to the good news. How's that sound? So the bad news is that it's complicated. When we look at each of the 14 states, it's tough to keep track of where exactly they are. And sometimes, when we've even reached out to those who are representing the states because the states themselves are not actually talking with us, they have a third-party organization who represents them and then they talk with us.

So that's that's even an additional complexity. It's understandable. We didn't expect this to turn out a different way. But when we're talking with those organizations, they sometimes will say, well, today this is what the state has told us that we can do, but we don't know what tomorrow's going to hold. So those conversations sometimes take some time. You alluded to this earlier on, Marlin. States are not quick movers. It takes them a while to get their wheels turning.

Marlin Detweiler:

I think it's been said internally for us, it's a little bit like we're trying to fly an airplane while it's being built, right?

Bob Cannon:

Well, that's exactly the metaphor that comes to mind. And so we're working with that. Now, on to the good news. The families who have interacted with us have been able to purchase curriculum from us. They've been able to purchase both our self-paced and our live courses. They have decided that because of the financial assistance they receive, whether it's purchasing curriculum or purchasing courses, that now all of a sudden the financial or budgetary window opens up to them to become a part of our full-time program in our school.

So all of those things are possibilities. And it's not to say that the state necessarily even decides that they're going to support every one of those things that I just mentioned. But even supporting one of those things causes a family to say, “Well, now can we do this? Can we go at this full tilt?” And there are families who have been able to make a commitment for even all of their children.

And actually, another consistency that I've encountered is that many of our families have said to us, when they're leveraging these funds, they've actually said even if these funds weren't available, we would still be in your environment, we would still be wanting to leverage what you have to offer for our children. But boy, does this open up possibilities for us and we're grateful for it.

Laurie Detweiler:

Families that might have taken one class, now are they're taking three.

Bob Cannon:

Yes. Exactly.

Laurie Detweiler:

That's what I've seen a lot of.

Bob Cannon:

We've seen that happen over and over.

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, for this year coming up, we've already started registration. It started back in the beginning of December. And so if people are thinking that it's it can wait a bit. My answer is I wouldn't if I were you. Sections fill up, schedules become more difficult as sections fill up. And so you want to get in early and be able to do this in a way that you can you can schedule things the way that you'd like to as it relates to live classes, as it relates to curriculum. It's a little bit different story.

Laurie Detweiler:

We work state by state. So once we know what's happening in your state because, you know, I talked to a woman last week, and she said, “Well, but I'm not going to get payment on this for so many months.” Well, this is the state we've worked with before. And so we have processes and procedures for doing that where we can still get you registered for classes and work with you depending upon your state.

And that's why I'm saying don't come into this saying, “Well, I want my money till July. And they're registering now.” And so once we know what your state does and how we get paid, we can we will easily work with you. And I think you'll find that we're pretty flexible about it as we've worked through states. So we've had some parents that have been willing to be our guinea pigs.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, test dummies. Because 14 states, 14 different ways. We will have 25 states and in a couple of years it'll be 25 different ways. But we're prepared to think through and work through processes that will help benefit the families that want the education we have.

Bob Cannon:

I’ll also point out that while we refer to this as a new process in some way, it's not our first rodeo because I remember ten years ago when the state of Arizona had such funding available to military families.

Laurie Detweiler:

Correct.

Bob Cannon:

So, Laurie, what you referenced in the way of our waiting for payment to be made and making those kinds of arrangements, we have been doing that in a sense for the past ten years or more. Now it's just a matter of not only having the windows open further, it's like the doors are being blown open and we're seeing more of some of the same kinds of opportunities.

Marlin Detweiler:

And so I hope I hope that you all find this helpful. I hope that you live in a state that will allow you to benefit or a state that soon will allow you to benefit. Bob, talk to us about what to expect. What are some of the new things for the coming school year? We're obviously talking about the 24-25 school year with the summer classes that are offered in July and August of 2024.

Bob Cannon:

Yes and since you mentioned that, I'll say that first that in summertime, a few years back, we decided to expand our summer offerings. And since that time, it feels like it happened overnight, but we about doubled or tripled it somewhere between those two, the offerings that we have in Summer A and Summer B. So Summer A runs from the beginning of June to the middle of July Summer B from the middle of July to the end of August.

Those classes pretty universally actually have tended to fill because parents recognize that there's a lot of value in distributing the load, as it were, from an academic year’s time into the summer, at least in part. There are all kinds of advantages that we can talk about with Summer, but that's about all that I'll say on that point. One of the more exciting things that's happened going into the 24-25 school year, and I'm smiling here because I was going to make a bit of a joke knowing that this conversation was coming, that we had about 50 classes that we're going to offer at what I might call International Times, they’re in the evening. Now, the reason that was going to become a joke is that we actually have 49 classes. But as of this morning, just a couple of hours ago, we added a 50th class.

Laurie Detweiler:

And I have this strange feeling it's going to hit 75.

Marlin Detweiler:

Or one hundred!

Bob Cannon:

Yeah, it sure could. But pretty exciting to think that we've always had an international student body. That's one of the beauties of what we do here. But now it's reached a different level of excitement in that we're offering these classes at times when students in all of Asia, Australia, and other parts of the world are able to step into our classrooms and to not have to do so at non-school hours for them. And I expect that that list is only, as Laurie said, going to continue to expand.

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, and as we've talked internally, it's our dream to really be able to run a school, an online school that has classes filling the 24-hour clock, if that's what the demand is, we're prepared to do that. There are two things that affect when students need classes. One is where they live, the time zone. And that's filling a 24-hour clock. And we're prepared to do that. And we're working toward that with the 50 classes that you mentioned and that Laurie suggested might grow well beyond that.

The other is if and when demand makes it viable to also have a school year that starts when many countries in the southern hemisphere start and that is the January-February timeframe. The traditional Western school that we know in the United States starts started in early September and now we see some starting in August and that sort of thing.

But we start in early September still. But the idea of having a counter school year, which starts in late January, early February, to serve the countries that tend to educate that way is something that we're interested in, too. So as you listeners are aware of this, don't be at all bashful and tell us what you would hope for that we might figure out ways to help create the numbers that make it viable because we're interested in doing that.

Bob Cannon:

Yeah, as you talk about another school year calendar. Australia and New Zealand, places like that of course come to mind because of their calendar academically, I think of it as Veritas 2.0 in a way. But at the same time, going back to a question that I know that some people are going to be wondering about, and that's in reference to the funding that we opened up this conversation with.

I think that it's worth saying, Marlin, and I know that you'll both nod in enthusiastic agreement that our mission remains front and center. There's nothing changing about our mission. That's a question that some are going to have. And I think it's worth bluntly stating that here.

Marlin Detweiler:

Of course.

Laurie Detweiler:

Couldn't agree more.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, and here we are seeing tremendous opportunity for the mission to expand. And as I've talked with us internally and increasingly public, we think we're on to an opportunity that was never possible before, and we're ideally situated for it, and that is the international student body, the online education with the best teachers, best collection of teachers you can imagine.

We have a world-class collection of teachers, something that can't be done in a single geographic area at all. And so you have that benefit, the benefit we didn't see coming with online classes. The international student body and the cultural diversity that allows for rich conversation and interaction has enhanced the education in ways we never saw coming. But then the idea of having enough students to create density in local communities for extracurricular activities, and that's an important part of education, too.

I was involved in athletics. I know you were Bob. Laurie was involved in drama and music. And those kinds of things that are very significant to a student's experience. And the idea for us to be able to do that with the best education in the online world, with a world-class collection of teachers while having enough density in a local area to build around a community, there is something that we're working on. We've even invested in that in our budgeting process by looking to hire a Community Director to fill that role and to help build that.

Laurie Detweiler:

Absolutely. So look for an ad coming out for us to be hiring that because it's something somebody might be interested in that’s listening to us.

Marlin Detweiler:

But we think that that creates incredible opportunity to see our mission really take hold in ways that we never envisioned being possible 20-some years ago when we were first getting started.

Laurie Detweiler:

That's great.

Marlin Detweiler:

Bob, any last thoughts for us here?

Bob Cannon:

Lots of things that I could speak to as the year is coming. Of course, we plan early, which means that we plan well, we start our planning for an upcoming school year when a school year begins. So isn't it interesting that we start our classes in September, just after Labor Day, and it seems that a week will go by, and then in the second week of school, we're starting to talk about a coming year.

And I think that that's the right way to do it. It's the way we've been doing it here for a while, and there are new classes that we're going to offer in the coming year, things like biotechnology and some other interesting topics. I'll make mention of this too, because it's exciting. Since you mentioned our teachers, there was a time when I held out on the horizon this vision of having such a committed group of teachers that our retention rate among our faculty would be somewhere in the nineties.

I was thinking the low nineties initially, and then one day it actually hit 94%. We got pretty excited about that because it meant that we had hit a certain stride with those who had invested in what we're using curricularly and what we're doing missionally.

Laurie Detweiler:

They have a great leader in you!

Bob Cannon:

Well, thank you. I'm going to point North. You know my routine. But today I can tell you that looking at this next school year, we've hit yet another standard. Marlin, we just got to keep bumping the standard up. We're we're at 96% retention among our faculty right now looking into this next school year. Now, I'm asking myself, well, now where do we go? And so I think we're going to shoot for 98 in the next year.

Marlin Detweiler:

When are we going to get more than 100?

Laurie Detweiler:

Yeah, right.

Bob Cannon:

More than 100%? You know, you're better at math than I am, but I'm willing to try.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, I don't think that works, actually. But all kidding aside, it is wonderful to see the cohesion and commitment in terms of rallying around the vision of seeing us restore our culture to Christ one young heart and mind at a time. Classical Christian education being the means for doing that and just remarkable things going on.

Folks, thank you for joining us on this episode of Veritas Vox, the voice of Classical Christian Education. Feel free to call our service department and ask questions if you need help understanding what's going on in your state. And of course, we have Family Consultants that you can sign up for a free consult with on our website for help that you might need.

And they're very thorough things and they know what's going on and can help you do so. Bob Laurie, thank you. This has been wonderful. It is so exciting to see what's going on and how we can follow God's lead in what is going on and what we've set out to do.

Bob Cannon:

Thank you.

Laurie Detweiler:

Thanks.