October 29, 2021
By Joe Setyon
Any parent can tell you their child’s unique facets: what they love or hate, foods they will eat or won’t, things they excel at or need a bit of extra help with.
This extends to how kids learn, too. That’s why the Goldwater Institute spends so much time and energy advocating for education choice. And it’s working, as Goldwater Director of Education Policy Matt Beienburg and EdChoice Director of Policy Jason Bedrick discussed at a virtual webinar Thursday about the state of education reform and the expansion of school options.
“This is by far the biggest year that we’ve ever had,” Bedrick said, referring to the progress that the education choice movement has made in 2021.
There are a few reasons for this. For one thing, as many public schools stayed closed even as parents were ready to send their children back to in-person classes, some families realized they wanted more options, Bedrick said. On the flip side, other families weren’t quite ready to send their kids back to in-person school even as their districts were reopening, leaving them looking elsewhere, too, he added.
As Bedrick pointed out, there’s another factor at play here as well: With entire families stuck at home for much of the pandemic, parents got to see for themselves the quality of education their children were receiving—and in some cases, they weren’t pleased with how teachers were integrating politics into their lessons.
And that’s the beauty of education choice: It empowers parents, not systems, to make decisions customized around their children’s unique qualities and needs.
Some children can read at an extraordinarily high level for their age group, but they might need more personalized attention from an instructor to get their multiplication tables down pat. Others are math whizzes, but they’re left trying to play catchup with their peers when it comes time for reading.
The point is, every child is different. So why would we take a one-size-fits-all approach to education—an approach that leaves countless parents with no choice but to send their children to a school that corresponds to their zip code—regardless of its quality—rather than one that fits their child’s needs?
Nationwide, parents remain polarized on education, but according to an EdChoice poll released in September, more than half—55 percent—of current school parents believe K-12 education is on the wrong track.
What parents do by and large support, however, is school choice, especially education savings accounts (ESAs), which the Goldwater Institute pioneered. ESAs put money that would otherwise go toward a given student’s public education into an account that parents can use to customize their child’s education experience. The money can be used for a wide variety of education options like private schools, tutoring, textbooks, and homeschool curricula, and it can even be rolled over from one year into the next. According to the EdChoice poll, 84 percent of parents support ESAS.
In Arizona, the Goldwater Institute advocated for the nation’s first ESA policy, which became a reality in 2011. Since then, the state’s ESA program (officially known as Empowerment Scholarship Accounts) has gone from serving 100 students in its first year over 10,000 today.
And as Beienburg noted last month in his Decade of Success report, for the 2020-2021 school year, ESA awards covered almost completely the median cost of private elementary and middle school tuition/fee rates in Arizona. When you consider that median private school tuition/fee rates were significantly lower than public-school-per-pupil-funding rates in Arizona last school year, it’s easy to understand why ESAs are so popular among parents.
Giving parents a choice is almost always better than applying a one-size-fits-all approach to their children’s future. As Beienburg said during the webinar, “The beauty about school choice is that it helps you regardless of whether you’re a particularly gifted student, [or] whether you’re disadvantaged economically, academically, whatever it may be.”
That’s why the Goldwater Institute will continue advocating for education choice.
You can watch the full webinar above.
Joe Setyon is a Digital Communications Associate at the Goldwater Institute.