(The opinions expressed in guest op-eds are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of RedState.com.)
On January 10, 2022, during his State of the State address, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey told the State Legislature, “This session, let’s expand school choice any way we can. Let’s think big and find more ways to get kids into the school of their parents’ choice. Send me the bills, and I’ll sign them.”
Less than seven months after his request for more school choice, the Arizona Legislature granted Ducey’s wish by passing a bill that goes above and beyond the governor’s goal of expanding the state’s current school choice program.
On June 25, the Arizona Legislature passed HB 2583, the most expansive school choice legislation in the nation.
In short, the bill would allow all 1.1 million K-12 students in Arizona access to the state’s existing school choice program, known as Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.
This means, “Families who participate would receive over $6,500 per year per child for private school, homeschooling, ‘learning pods,’ tutoring, or any other kinds of educational service that would best fit their students’ needs outside the traditional public school system,” according to the Goldwater Institute.
In celebration of the bill’s passage, Ducey tweeted:
“Arizona has long been a pioneer in education choice. Now, with this historic expansion of ESAs, we’ll continue to charter the path for others to follow suit.”
He also tweeted:
“Education is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Kids and families should be able to access the school or learning program that best fits their unique needs — regardless of income. In Arizona, we’re making sure they have that choice.”
Ducey is absolutely correct, parents should certainly have the ability to decide which school their child attends.
In fact, most parents strongly agree with the commonsense idea that they should have the freedom to choose where and how their child is educated.
According to a recent poll by RealClear Opinion Research, “the concept of school choice enjoys overwhelming support (72% vs. 18% opposed).”
Moreover, school choice is very popular among all demographic groups and across party lines.
Per the RealClear poll, 72 percent of whites, 70 percent of blacks, 77 percent of Hispanics, and 66 percent of Asians “support the concept of school choice.” What’s more, 68 percent of Democrats, 82 percent of Republicans, and 67 percent of Independents believe parents should have the “the right to use the tax dollars designated for their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs.”
In Arizona, school choice has been particularly popular. In 2011, the state initiated the Empowerment Scholarships Account (ESA) program. In 2012, the program had 144 participants. By 2021, this number reached 9,831.
In 2020, dozens of Arizona parents testified before the Arizona State Board of Education, voicing their support for the state’s ESA program.
As one mother said:
“I am a parent of three children on ESA, but I also have a master’s degree in elementary education, and ESA has saved the educational lives of my three children. … We have tried public, private, and charter schools … [and] my child was able to meet some of her IEP (Individualized Education Program) goals in four months that no school had helped her to achieve in four years.”
Another mother chimed in, “ESA saved my son from a path that would have compromised him on a systemic level, ultimately hindering his ability to pursue secondary education, sustainable employment, and independent living.”
For far too long, far too many families in Arizona have been unable to pursue the educational path that best fits the needs and circumstances of their children. However, over the span of one decade, Arizona’s school choice program has already made a huge difference by offering hope to thousands of Arizona families. Now, every single student in Arizona will finally have the opportunity to embark on the educational course that best fits their unique needs.
Chris Talgo ([email protected]) is senior editor at The Heartland Institute.