June 24, 2019
Not every child is the same, so it stands to reason that not every educational experience should be the same, right? Flexible education options give kids and their parents a better ability to customize an education that works best for them, writes Goldwater Institute Senior Fellow Jonathan Butcher in a new piece for the Deseret News, and states that don’t offer such options should embrace them.
Florida mother Andrea Wiggins knows the difference that these flexible options can make in a child’s life. Her daughter Elizabeth has special needs that make learning a challenge, but because Andrea had access to a Gardiner Scholarship (Florida’s education savings account, or ESA, program), she was able to pay for teaching materials, therapies, and private school tuition—all of which made it easier for Elizabeth to learn and help reach her full potential. Today, Elizabeth is thriving in a district high school—and the Gardiner Scholarship helped make that possible.
Florida is one of just a handful of states that offer ESAs to students. The Goldwater Institute was instrumental in passing Arizona’s first-in-the-nation ESA program in 2011, creating the country’s first program of public contributions to ESAs for special needs students, and giving those students and their families a greater ability to design educational experiences that work for them. The Institute had seminal victories for school choice in 2015 by defeating legal challenges to Florida and Louisiana’s school choice programs. These rulings reinforced Arizona’s legal precedent, and they paved the way for greater school choice programs across the country.
And that’s great news—because students in all 50 states deserve to have the same option to build an education that fits their needs. Take Utah, for example, writes Butcher. It’s a state with a growing and evolving population, and greater education flexibility would help students as they plan for their careers:
Many families in Utah need flexible solutions like these to prepare their children for success. Utah’s population is growing rapidly, which means a larger K-12 population, more children with special needs, and an employment sector that is also changing. According to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, retail jobs are growing at a slower pace than occupations in the fields of information technology and health care. Utah’s parents and education system need flexibility to prepare students for a changing workplace.
And Utah’s situation—and the situations of its students—are by no means unique. No matter where they live, students have educational needs that would be better satisfied by teaching tools, tutoring, and alternative classroom options—and having access to these would help put them on the path to achievement on their own terms.
Read Butcher’s full take here.