Ep. 317: What’s Up with ESAs? with Jackie Guglielmo

April 28, 2022

Jackie Guglielmo joins the podcast to talk nuts and bolts about the ESA program in Indiana.

Mike McShane: What’s up everybody? This is Mike McShane, Director of National research at EdChoice. And today on the podcast, we’re going to answer the question, what’s up with education savings accounts? On the podcast, we have, Jackie Guglielmo, who I practiced her name multiple times to make sure that I got that right. I am too close to many proud Sicilians to screw up a beautiful Sicilian name like that. Jackie, if you’re listening, I hope I got that correct. But anyway, Jackie is the Executive Director of the Indiana Education Scholarship Account Program, which is a mouthful, but it is the ESA Program, Education Savings Account Program that exists in the Hoosier state. If you’re listening to this podcast, because maybe your state is considering an education savings account program, or they’ve already passed one, and you want to know what the heck is going on there, or you live in Indiana, and you’ve heard about this program. The point of today’s podcast was not to do like, this is why ESAs are a good idea or why they’re a bad idea, this is what the research says, but actually to talk nuts and bolts with the person who administers the program for this state of Indiana. What we do throughout the course of our conversation today is look at, from both the family perspective and the provider perspective, what does it mean to create one of these programs and what does it mean to participate in one of these programs? I think we cover a lot of really interesting and useful ground. If you’ve had questions of, how is eligibility developed or how are providers paid? All of that stuff is covered in great detail. Without further ado, here is my conversation with, Jackie Guglielmo, the Executive Director of the Indiana Education Scholarships Account Program. Well, Jackie, it’s great to have you on the podcast. You are the Executive Director of the Indiana Education Scholarship Account Program. I don’t know whether you have to have larger business cards for that, or if the font has to come down.

Jackie Guglielmo: We get the super wide ones.

Mike McShane: Nice. I was at, in the office where, when Dwight became the manager, he gave them all the extra big business cards so they would stand out. It’s the same vibe that’s going on here.

Jackie Guglielmo: Well, that’s how we’re going to fit my last name on a business card. We need the wide ones, anyway.

Mike McShane: We go. Lovely. Look, for folks who might not be based in Indiana or maybe Indiana people who just aren’t as familiar with this, could you give the kind of elevator pitch about the ESA program in Indiana?

Jackie Guglielmo: Sure. Yeah. Mike, we were talking about earlier and I’ve said if you’ve met one ESA, you’ve only met one ESA because they’re so different states to state. So excited to talk about what our state has been able to do with the Education Scholarship Account program. For this first year rollout, in order for a student to be eligible, they need to meet a couple of eligibility requirements. That being, an income requirement of 300% of the federal free and reduced lunch rate, they need to be a student with a disability for whom an IEP, a service plan, or a plan through our voucher program has been established, and they need to be a resident of Indiana between the ages of five and 22. With our ESA, we have a list that looks a little bit more limited than other states as far as qualified expenses. For instance, students can’t purchase curriculum or curricular materials. We don’t have a ton of virtual options. But we do have really a robust selection of different services and therapies that would serve students with disabilities very well in the state of Indiana. And we have a very robust list of types of providers that can sign on. You can be an educational service provider, you can be a tutor, you can provide fee for service transportation, any type of service, speech, occupational therapy, ABA. We can be able to provide a wide variety of services to students here in Indiana.

Mike McShane: If you’re one of these eligible students, how do you find out about this program? Does your office do outreach? Is it nonprofits doing outreach? Is it school districts helping out? How do people find out that they can even participate in this?

Jackie Guglielmo: Both or all of the above, I really should say. I’ve been in the position for about six months and outreach has been my life. I’ve really been quite literally pounding the pavement around the State of Indiana. I’ve been to Columbus, I’ve been to Hammond, I’ve been to South Bend, I’ve been to Fort Wayne. I’ve been all around the state visiting qualified schools, which are accredited non-public schools here in the state because they can sign on to be providers of educational service. We’ve done a lot of outreach, kind of internally, a grassroots outreach effort. I have a program coordinator on staff with me and she has picked up where I’ve left off and done a ton of outreach as well. We’re working with the My School Options team through Institute for Quality Education. And they have been a wonderful asset for us to do outreach. We’ve recorded some YouTube videos, some instructional videos for families and providers to understand more about the program, whether that’s eligibility, application process, how the grant has calculated. They’ve really helped to assist us in that. The Indiana Non-Public Education Association has really been helpful at connecting me with different non-public schools around the state that I’ve been able to visit and give some information and help them understand how we’re a bit different than the 10 year old voucher program that we’ve had in the state that a lot of the qualified schools have participated with. And we really work in tandem with Department of Education on that. That’s been wonderful as well. We have a Facebook page, we have a LinkedIn page. We’ve been doing webinars. We’ve worked very closely with Ark of Indiana and Insource to host a webinar. So that was informational for families and providers. We’ve tried to hit every method. We have our website that we’ve been putting out there, and we’ve actually just been doing some cold calling to providers that we know in the area or getting in touch with some advocacy groups for families of students with disabilities. I’ve also worked with, Jamie McCabe, over at Special Needs Living Magazine, which is a phenomenal publication for families of children or adults with disabilities. And she really caters to that population. So we’ve been able to publish an article in there and they also have a great list of resources for advocacy groups. So just reaching out to them to make sure that they’re aware that the program exists.

Mike McShane: That’s great. If someone finds out from one of these different avenues, this is exciting, we’re eligible to participate, then what happens? Do they have some paperwork that they need to fill out? What is the step that they do to actually enroll in the program?

Jackie Guglielmo: Right. Our application process is really simple, user friendly, intuitive. I’m actually at the tail end of the process of building out an entire software portal specific to us, specific to our program and our program needs. That’s been really exciting. It’s all online through a secure online portal. Both families and providers will be able to apply through this portal. There will be a checklist that’s published on our website and on the portal landing page that families and providers alike, can have their list of documents ready. For example, if they go on our website or hear about us, they say, yes, I’m eligible as a family. The family would need to make sure that they’re proving eligibility in the program. They would need, for instance, their child’s birth certificate to prove age, their IEP or service plan to prove disability and the need for special education services, some sort of proof of residency and proof of income. On the other side, a provider who decides, yes, I want to participate in this, this would be great. Or maybe, I already have families that I know would qualify so I want to be able to provide them services if they accept any ESA. They would really just need to upload their business license and then any certification accreditation or licensure that they would need to have in order to provide that service in the State of Indiana. So proving their scope of practice. For example, if they’re a licensed professional, they’re going to upload their license, manually type in expiration date. And something that’s really cool is our system can actually let them know when their license or accreditation is coming due for expiration. That’s a nice little feature as well.

Mike McShane: Yeah, that’s awesome. Then maybe we’ll start on the family side. We’ll do the provider side next. Family applies, they use this wonderful, intuitive user friendly. I imagine a lot of thought and effort went into that. Well done y’all on that one. Then they apply, thumbs up for rock and roll, they’re ready to go. What does their interface with the program look like? Are they given a login where they see a balance? And maybe helping folks, how much money do families get? And then is that in an app or what does it look like? So they know how much they have and how much they’ve spent, what does that interface look like?

Jackie Guglielmo: Sure. That’s a lot of information right there and I’ll try to start from the beginning here. One of the functionalities of our portal, which is really amazing and we’ve designed it, ourself is a search function so that once providers are on board and they’re approved, I have a populated list of providers that families can search and that’s completely public facing. Families don’t need to be registered, applied, approved, nothing, they can hop right on our portal and search for providers. And the reason I wanted to do it this way, as a parent myself is, before I decide that I want to go through an application process, I’m going to see, well, who’s in my geographic location? Is this going to be worth my time? We have a lot of rural areas in Indiana, so those families are going to want to make sure that there’s providers that are local to them. They can type in either the name of a provider that they know, and they want to continue to use, or just simply the type of provider in their zip code. And then they can see all the different types of providers. Then they are able to register with our portal even before they begin the application process. And then they can actually favorite. And once they have a username and password, they can favorite some providers. And what that means is that the next time they log in, those providers are going to appear right on their dashboard. That way, they’re looking at the provider marketing profile. And what that means is, upon application for the providers, they’re going to provide a name, a website, a contact name, a logo, and the basic types of services that they provide. And that way, a family knows, I want to reach out to this provider, they are likely to meet the needs of my child. Once the families apply and are approved, there will be a slight lag time before they get their grant amount. And the reason for that is because we’re capped this first year on the amount of appropriation that we can disperse, which means that we’re capped on the number of students that would be able to receive an award for this year. And I feel robotic when I say it, but my plug here is always, I don’t want families to be intimidated by that because the more families that apply, the more interests that showed in the Indiana ESA, the better chance that we have in the future of increasing the appropriation or eliminating the cap. I can turn around and say, 2000 families are interested here. They really want this. That will be super beneficial if every student, every family that’s eligible can apply. Shortly after receiving their grant amount, and I’ll talk about that in a second, they’ll be able to establish an account through an account management portal that we’ll have. That’s a secondary portal that’s connected to the first, but two different because they serve two different functions. That first one is just for applications and search. And the second one would be where their actual money is housed, and how they will be making payments of those qualified expenses to the approved providers. For instance, they establish their account, they have a username and a password, and then a separate account is established for each student under that family. Say you have siblings that both are eligible, both apply, or both approved, those accounts are separate and distinct. And there can’t be transfer of accounts for both, but we use one login just for ease of access for the family. They would be able to go in, they can find the service provider that they have been working with, that their child has been receiving services through, and they can make a payment. Now, only approved providers are going to show up in that account management portal. That will be super easy for the family. And payments can only be for services that have occurred already. They can’t be before services. That workflow there, which is important for families to know is that they will establish a relationship with a provider, that provider will invoice the family. And that invoice is going to have, to have certain components to make sure that they’re paying for qualified expenses and then the family initiates payment, and then my team internally approves it. It goes through two checks and balances there, just to make sure user error or we’re reviewing the invoice to make sure there’s qualified expenses on that. And that is something that they can do both on the computer or from a mobile device. It’s pretty user friendly.

Mike McShane: You mentioned determining how much the grant is for each student, how do they know how much money is going in their account?

Jackie Guglielmo: That is dependent on two main components. The first one is the amount of tuition support that that student’s residential school district receives. What that means is whatever school corporation or school district you live in, they base the tuition support amount on the amount of students in their account every year. And so that’s public facing information, you can get that right from Department of Education. We are granting 90% of that state tuition support amount. And that would differ from district to district. The second component, since we’re talking for this first year, specifically about students with disabilities, they also are able to receive, what’s called APC dollars. Now APC stands for Additional Pupil Count, and I just refer to it as special education dollars. When a student is in a public school, that public school receives additional funding for that student, depending on their category of disability. And those categories are determined by the state Department of Education, not by ESA or Treasurer of state. When we are reviewing documentation that’s coming through from the family, whether that’s an IEP or a service plan or a choice special education plan, which would mean that the student is coming from the choice program or our voucher program, we’re going to see the categorization of the disability right there on the documentation. And that’s going to drive that second amount. Now, with that being said, student that decide that they’re going to an accredited non-public school with their ESA, we prioritize the payment to that school for tuition support. The family also makes the determination of where they want to receive special education services. And we prioritize the payment of the APC dollars there for them as well, because that’s tricky and it’s complicated and it’s a lot to understand. We don’t want families really to have to worry about, well, gosh, where do I put those funds? And I want to make sure I earmark those. Once they’ve made the selection that particular situation or that particular educational setting is best for their child, we just go ahead and prioritize that payment for them.

Mike McShane: Now, how big is your team reviewing all of this?

Jackie Guglielmo: Right now, we’re a three man show. There’s myself, my program coordinator, Emma, who’s fantastic and phenomenal, and does everything. She wears so many hats. And then we also have a general counsel on staff. His name is, Chris Scott. And so that’s our team right now, but I am currently in the hiring process for a position called an account specialist. And I’m probably looking to bring on maybe three or four account specialists. And their sole responsibility will be vetting the applications that are coming in from families and providers. And then once the accounts are established, approving expenses on the back end.

Mike McShane: The families have a kind of running tally of they know how much money they have, I spent this much on speech and language services, and this much with an occupational therapist, I have this much left to play within my account? Something roughly similar to that happens?

Jackie Guglielmo: You got it, absolutely right. One or two scenarios is going to, if they decide that they are going with a qualified school and we prioritize that payment, that’s completely visible on their dashboard. They would know their total grant award amount and then the amount that we’re prioritizing for tuition and fees. So that school, along with those APC dollars for special education, then they’ll see their remaining balance. Now, disbursements are remained quarterly. Families would get four payments out the year of that remaining balance to spend on any other qualified services or therapies that they feel are the best fit for their student. If they decide, you know what, I don’t want that conventional classroom setting, I want to do something different or my child needs something different. That’s absolutely fine under the ESA. They would just search for different types of educational providers that are approved through our system. And they would actually get the full award amount in four quarterly disbursements because, in that case, nothing would be prioritized for them. They would just have what I like to say, the whole pot.

Mike McShane: Rough dollars, do you know right now what the average award is? Is there a huge range of numbers for someone just to ballpark that we know? Are we talking about $100, $1000, $10,000, $100,000? Where are we in that rough range?

Jackie Guglielmo: Yeah, no, that’s a great question. And these, again, are rough, rough numbers, but you’re looking at the average amount of tuition support, 90% of that being about five to $6,000. And again, give or take, every school corporation is different, but that’s what you’re looking at there. Now, with those APC dollars, there’s kind of an infant number of combinations between the school corporations and the combinations of the categories. For category one, which is considered severe disability, so that’s your autism, your multiple disabilities, that’s carrying about $10,000 price tag. You’re taking that 10 and adding it to the state tuition support. The moderate range, so category two, I want to say is about 2,500. And again, these are rough numbers. I just received the 2223 numbers. I don’t have them memorized quite yet. The third category is speech delay only, and that is a $500 price tag. Now, the speech delay actually can be secondary to category one or category two. You may have instances where a student qualifies for category one and category three, in which case their APC dollars is about $10,500. And then you’re adding that to the state tuition support. It can be a pretty decent amount of money to go and then spend on other educational services.

Mike McShane: That’s awesome. I would like to think we’ve done a very good job on the family side. We’ve mentioned a couple different ways on the provider side. Maybe if we could walk through, let’s say, I am a speech language pathologist, and I’m in Carmel, Indiana, and I want to get involved in this, what do I need to do?

Jackie Guglielmo: I would review our checklist to make sure that you have everything that you need on there. Make sure your license is up to date, which you would need anyway, as a provider. Then you’re going to log into our portal and you’re going to select the type of provider you’re on right now. They are divided into three categories, qualified school, provider or family. And those are the three types of applications that we have. You would choose provider, and then you would go through our applications process, which is just simple business information. The name and location or locations of your speech centers that you have. If there’s any specialties that you provide, so as a speech pathologist, you might be certified in a specific type of thing, or have experience serving a specific type of population or students with a specific disability. You can indicate that in your marketing profile, that’s going to be that forward facing profile to the families. And that way, when they’re searching for a speech pathologist, they might not only want an SLP, but may an SLP that’s certified in something specific. We would be able to help them narrow down that search by gleaning that information from you upon application. Both families and providers also need to sign an attestation or an agreement basically that they’re going to follow the program requirements at the time of application and then throughout. And that’s on both. Once that is signed and submitted, we review it. Once you’re approved, you show up on our provider list on our website, you show up on our provider list on our portal so families can begin to search you. We’re also going to gather some ACH information from you, some banking information. That way, the payments that parents are making are direct deposit right into your account.

Mike McShane: That’s great. And are those providers free to set their fees at whatever they want?

Jackie Guglielmo: Yeah. That’s a great question. We do not have an ESA fee structure and I’ve actually gotten that question in a number of times. It’s truly up to the provider, what their cost and fee structure is. But by law, I like families to know that providers may not charge a different amount for an ESA student than they would a similarly situated student. The family doesn’t have to worry about that, my child is going to be charged more or less because they’re accepting ESA.

Mike McShane: And you mentioned they are actually paid quarterly or are they paid however, but the money is dispersed into the family’s accounts quarterly? When does the direct deposit go through?

Jackie Guglielmo: Yeah. You got it. The money goes into the family’s account quarterly. The parents are responsible for making that payment in a timely manner, following the invoice for the services. The provider is going to give the family an invoice just as they would typically. Here’s your invoice for an hour of ABA, the family then uploads that invoice and is able to initiate that payment. Once it’s approved by our team, which, I mean, you’re talking 24 to 48 hours after the initiation is made by the parent, it’s automated payment from our system through our account management system. It’s just automated to the provider. You’re talking a pretty quick turnaround time.

Mike McShane: Sure. To drill down, this is something I get a lot of questions about. I’m just going to pass this on to you, my apologies in advance. But deciding who is eligible, you mentioned things like being certified, providing appropriate services. What do you all do to make sure that the providers are doing what they say that they’re doing so that the dollars are actually going to, that they’re not just pocketing dollars or whatever?

Jackie Guglielmo: It’s a fair question. It’s a fair question. And I’m a board certified behavior analyst and I’m licensed in two states. I know exactly what that process looks like. And I know the importance of making sure that we’re giving families a vetted selection of providers to choose from. My program coordinator that I mentioned earlier, she actually comes to me from the professional licensing agencies. She also has a wealth and a breadth of knowledge about that realm of things. But we’ve done our due diligence in researching what each therapist service provider would need in the State of Indiana to provide that type of service, which is different state to state. We really needed to make sure that we knew what we were looking for here. For example, and there was some, I guess, wiggle room and standards that we could set ourselves. I’ve certainly reached out to the administrator network to say, what are you guys doing in your states? How are you vetting a tutor? How are you vetting a service provider? What are you expecting there? For example, a tutor would need to prove that they have a degree in a certain area, or that they’re a state licensed teacher. Certain, therapists, exactly. Yeah. We wanted really gold standard here for families. Service providers, that was pretty easy. Most of them required licensure or certification in the state. That was pretty simple to reference from the professional licensing agency. I guess, that’s my answer to that is we really did our due diligence in researching all the by law allowable categories of providers and then what each of them would need to be considered practicing in their scope in the state.

Mike McShane: That’s fantastic. I did not know that. And I’m glad to hear that. That’s wonderful. We’ve gone through both of these. I hope for listeners listening at home that this was all informative for you. I want to close with a slightly different question, but related. What do you think are the biggest misperceptions about the program in Indiana? What do people think that is not in fact true?

Jackie Guglielmo: First and foremost, that we are against public schools. To be transparent, I think that, that’s the thing I get the most often. And I understand why people would think that, but it’s certainly not true. I’m a public school student. My children will go to public school. But it’s not the best fit for everyone. And there are students, especially when you’re focused on our scope of eligibility for this first year. You’re talking about students with disabilities, which I have served for 15 years, both children and adults with developmental disabilities. I have a lot of experience in the field and I know that the conventional school setting is not always conducive based on the disabilities. It’s through no fault of anybody’s, but sometimes families just feel, I think my child could do better somewhere else. I think they need something that just isn’t available here and I want to pursue different options. And that’s challenging when a lot of those different options are very expensive. I think that this just affords that flexibility. We’re certainly not trying to put anybody out of business. We just want… That’s why I love the title, “My School Options at IQE,” we just want them to have options. That’s all. I think that’s probably the biggest misconception that I get, or you hear about some pitfalls and fraud. And I think that have beyond done our due diligence here at the Treasurer’s Office in making sure that our program is set up soundly and we’ve done so much internally to reduce the possibility for fraud from either side to make sure that those state dollars are going where they need to be going. And to speak to your question earlier, to make sure they’re going to a provider who’s established and vetted, and there’s credibility there. That we’re not going to have a fly by night situation. And that’s another reason why all the payments need to be made for services that have already been provided, not are going to happen. And that’s a big protection for the families as well.

Mike McShane: For sure. And now, if someone from another state came to you, I don’t know, Kansas or Nebraska or California, or someone said, hey, we’re thinking about starting an ESA program. What is maybe one piece of advice that you would give them as they’re trying to put this together?

Jackie Guglielmo: Yeah, that’s a great question. I would think implementation because what it says in the law is not always how it translates in real life, right? We really have to think through practical implementation of the program. And sometimes that’s not told to us. It’s a relief when the law just tells us what to do. That’s nice. That’s the easy part of my job. It’s all those great areas where we go, how is this going to be best serving providers and families of students with disabilities? How can we make this work? How can we make sure it’s user friendly and intuitive and families have access to this and they know about it and they can use it in the best way possible because with choice comes responsibility? And I think that’s something that’s always a concern. Gosh, I was in a school setting and they helped me through this whole process. And now I get to craft it on my own, which is exciting and new. And I’m pumped because I have all these ideas for my child because I know them best. But my gosh! Where do I begin? And we’re so happy that our program’s going to allow us the ability to provide a lot of support for families and providers from the start of the application all the way through the utility of the program. I would say really think through how this is going to work for your population in your state, what do they need? And reach out, reach out, reach out, consult, consult, consult. That was probably one of the smartest things I did when I started the job and I read the law 16 times and I said, okay, I think I got this. I started visiting schools and providers and talking to families and saying, what are your concerns? What are your thoughts? What are you most excited about? What are you most nervous about? And thinking through, is this something that I can work out administratively? Is this something that maybe requires a tweak in the law? But that’s been so helpful in bringing people on board and alleviating a lot of questions.

Mike McShane: Well, thank you so much for joining the podcast today. I think we covered a ton of ground. I really appreciate you taking the time to chat.

Jackie Guglielmo: Thank you so much, Mike. It was so exciting to be on the show with you and so excited to share information about the Indiana ESA.


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Contact: Emma Vise, Outreach and Engagement Coordinator, EmVise@tos.in.gov