Educational choice has been called the most important civil rights issue of our time. Last month, Arizonans started calling it the law of the land. Now it’s time for Beehive State to call it “the Utah way”.
Although school choice has been a hot political issue for years, it’s not exactly controversial. A national survey conducted by the American Federation for Children in June, 72% of Americans support it and only 18% oppose it. It’s just as popular among black Americans as it is whites, and even more popular with Latinos. Two-thirds of Utahns and three-quarters of parents also support him, according to EdChoice.
This shouldn’t be surprising. After all, families who box choose the schools their children still attend. Between private, charter, and magnetic schools, homeschooling, and families choosing their residence specifically to access schools in their district, more than half of all Americans have already exercise some kind of educational choice, Education reports Next.
No one blames wealthy families for exercising their right to choose the schools that best suit their needs, any more than people would limit which students are allowed to attend colleges. Nor is there any reason why this flexibility should be reserved for wealthy families. Whenever a poor, gifted child wins a scholarship to a prestigious school, they are heartily and rightly congratulated.
All of this begs the question: why should educational choice be restricted? If it’s good for power forwards, musicians, “mathletes” and rich kids, why not for everyone?
Arizona has just answered this question: why not, indeed?
Following COVID-19-era controversies over school closures, masking and program transparency, the Arizona Legislature just passed a law creating college savings accounts — funded with $6,500 per year – for each student in the state. Arizona families can use the money in the way that best meets their students’ needs: for private school tuition, home schooling, travel costs to attend a school further away , micro-schools or any other option from a myriad of options. Instead of funding just one bureaucracy, Arizona will now be funding each of the state’s more than one million K-12 students.
It’s a win-win for Arizona. It will empower parents, connect children to the schools that are best for them, and usher in a new era of educational creativity and diversity in the state. The final bill even added more $1 billion to the Arizona education budget.
It can — and should — be a win-win for the Utahns. too.
Here, leaders on both sides of the aisle are paying tribute to “The Utah Way,” our state’s distinctive, cooperative and highly effective approach to solving problems. Republican Gov. Spencer Cox calls it “a mindset to think creatively about solutions to community problems and invite a wide range of parties to come to the table.” Salt Lake County Democratic Mayor Jenny Wilson said it “means something different to every Utahn because everyone has a different background and sees our state from a unique perspective.”
These two perspectives make a powerful argument in favor of universal school choice.
Faced with the challenge of educating an entire group of children, each from a different background, parents are by definition the most diverse and diverse “parties” to bring to the table. Families, not just political insiders, should make decisions about their children’s education. And for the sake of equality, this logic should extend to all families, not just those in certain ZIP codes.
This – the universality of Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program – is what makes this approach such a lever for diversity, equity and inclusion – and why it presents such a golden opportunity for Utah and the rest of the country.
Every parent and teacher knows that there are as many ways to educate students as there are students.. Public policies must therefore decentralize and diversify classroom experiences as much as possible. Fully-funded ESAs for every child in Utah will allow all students to find their passions and develop their talents in the environment that best suits their temperament and learning style. And a more personalized education allows each student to thrive without depriving anyone else of their time, attention, or resources.
Accomplishing all of this while strengthening the state education budget, maintaining accountability, and providing greater accountability to taxpayers and parents is what should make universal ESAs the next frontier for Utah.
Heather Andrews is State Director of Americans for Prosperity.