Arizona Families Celebrate New Universal ESA Law
During his January State of the State address, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey made waves after saying “Many of our poor kids and children of color are trapped in a failing school. It’s time to set these families free … 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.” Thanks to his leadership, the legislature was able to pass HB 2853, which the Governor subsequently signed into law last month, to make every student in Arizona eligible for a scholarship account.
At an event marking the legislation’s passage last week, Governor Ducey was joined by House Majority Leader Ben Toma, who sponsored the legislation, and several Arizona students and families who will benefit from the program. One of those parents was Jenny Clark, who said “Because of the program, our kids had access to wonderful curriculum, resources and special education that they needed. It has been life-changing.”
Stories from everyday Americans like Jenny underscore the importance of rethinking our system of education. Opponents of education freedom will often comment that these policies seek to “destroy public schools” or “take money away from public schools,” but nothing could be further detached from reality. American K-12 schools currently spend a collective $666.9 billion – $13,185 per pupil – every single year. This spending is so enormous that, if we were to divide it evenly among every American citizen, each person would receive over $2,000.
Despite this spending, 14% of American adults are illiterate and 65% of fourth-graders aren’t reading at grade level. The issue isn’t spending, but the misguided belief that every student can achieve their highest level of success in a local public school. The reality is that every student has their own unique strengths and weaknesses that only their parents know best. While one student might perform best in a homeschooling environment, another might benefit from attending a nearby private or charter school.
Scholarship programs, like the one just passed in Arizona, aren’t intended to criticize or hurt public schools. They represent a reimagining of how we educate young students in America by recognizing that there are lots of great educational options for parents to choose from and that public education dollars should be spent to maximize student outcomes – not benefit a single institution.
ALEC’s brand new model policy, the Hope Scholarship Act, was just passed at the 2022 Annual Meeting in Atlanta, GA. It takes the best features of scholarship account programs from around the country, including West Virginia’s Hope Scholarship Program and Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account Program, to offer lawmakers a template for universal education freedom in their states.