by Jennifer Tiedemann
January 24, 2019
Education reform wasn’t a passion for Matt Beienburg until he saw something he couldn’t believe—the power of choice, opportunity, and innovation at a school in south-central Los Angeles.
“This was a school where nearly every kid was coming from an economically disadvantaged background or a family where English wasn’t spoken at home, and yet almost every one of these kids had their hand up in class,” said Beienburg, who was on a pro-bono work project for his job as a human capital consultant. Today, Beienburg is Director of Education Policy for the Goldwater Institute.
“The school was outperforming schools in Beverly Hills academically. It turns out this was a charter school that former district teachers had founded because they wanted to give the kids in their community an option and an opportunity that they’d never had before, and it was something that was just spectacular to behold.”
This experience helped put Matt on the path to a career in studying and analyzing education, researching how to improve the learning experience for all students, and give them the education that works best for them.
Matt’s experience in that Los Angeles charter school showed him the positive difference that school choice can make in the lives of students and their families. “School choice is important because no one system can be expected to meet the needs of every student in every circumstance,” he says. “The idea that a student’s educational future should be determined by their zip code…regardless of its quality or its safety really isn’t fair or compassionate.” Rather, a greater ability to customize the educational experience boosts a student’s chances for success.
And that’s what the Goldwater Institute’s mission in education policy is all about, Matt says—expanding the opportunity families have to give their kids the best education possible. One of the opportunities is education savings accounts (ESAs): Today, more than 5,000 Arizona students are enrolled in these accounts—students with special needs, students who live on Native American reservations, those in foster care, and those in poorly performing schools. The Goldwater Institute pioneered Arizona’s ESA program, which gives families “resources to help them afford and access other educational avenues that fit their needs—all while relieving some of the spending by taxpayers,” Matt explains.
As one of the newest members of the Goldwater team, Matt looks forward to not only contributing to the Institute’s research and analysis on education policy, but also to fighting back against inaccurate narratives on charter schools, ESAs, and school choice. (For example, he recently combated The Arizona Republic’s incorrect series on charter schools here.) “Some of these narratives, like some of the worst dialogue in our national politics, have dominated news columns and social media and often obscure the truth,” he says. Instead, he wants to share the success stories of families, teachers, and students whose lives have been improved by educational choice.
“I chose to join the Goldwater Institute because I believe that the free expression of ideas is the bedrock of a vibrant society, especially in a partisan age like today. And I think that education gives the greatest opportunity to lift people up regardless of their background. The Goldwater Institute’s been dedicated to protecting freedoms both in education and in speech, and I’m glad to be a part of that.”
Read more about the Goldwater Institute’s work on school choice and how it creates life-changing opportunities for students here.
Jennifer Tiedemann is the Deputy Communications Director at the Goldwater Institute.