Ohio ACE ESA Program Reaches Capacity in Record Time

Ohio ACE ESA Program Connects 75,000+ Students to Critical Education Funding in 18 months


Ohio provides supplementary funds for students who experienced learning disruptions during COVID-19

In the fall of 2021, the Ohio State Legislature created the Afterschool Child Enrichment (ACE) educational savings account (ESA) program to provide supplementary funds to students who experienced learning disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tasked with daunting project logistics and timeline, the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) partnered with Merit to support the program from end-to-end—dispersing funds, standing up an online education marketplace, recruiting families and service providers, and ensuring the funds were spent correctly.

With Merit as their partner, DEW’s program was able to allocate nearly $125 million dollars, through more than 115,000 awards, to approximately 75,000 students across the state in only 18 months.

In the process, the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce’s ACE program has become an example of a modern ESA.


State faced with implementing an intricate ESA program quickly

The COVID-19 pandemic brought learning gaps that presented challenges for families and students nationwide. States were forced to create innovative solutions to target the problem and fill the cracks that came with remote learning; for the Ohio State Legislature, that meant creating the Afterschool Child Enrichment (ACE) educational savings account program in 2021, funded by the state’s share of federal CARES Act coronavirus relief funds.

The ESA program’s goal was to provide educational resources to eligible students, to help them recover from the impact of the pandemic by connecting them with resources they may otherwise not receive—after-school camps, music lessons, educational technologies, and more.

In charge of administering the program, the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) needed to verify student grant economic eligibility, ensure the funds were spent only on allowable activities and services, and gather comprehensive data for the state legislature.

Where government agencies often use paper-based or siloed mixed-technology systems for ESA program administration, DEW realized these options would be time-consuming for their staff, would not accurately capture real-time data, and could lead to misappropriated funds and even termination of potentially beneficial initiatives.

Given the intricate allocation and expenditure requirements, along with tight timelines of only 30 days to establish the program and 120 days to begin accepting applications, DEW sought a trusted partner capable of quickly standing up and managing the complex program.

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