April 18, 2017

We have been begging the reform majority to quit nibbling around the edges and go big on school choice, because the dug in public school bureaucracy will never tolerate change. Instead, they will always preserve the system and themselves.

Arizona is a model. They just enacted universal choice with educational savings accounts. From the Wall Street Journal, just last week:

“Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last month gave a rousing speech encouraging all flowers of school choice to bloom. Arizona lawmakers put her words into action on Thursday by enacting universal education savings accounts.

Arizona pioneered education savings accounts (ESAs) in 2011 as a workaround to a state Supreme Court ruling that struck down vouchers. The state deposits 90% of a student’s per-pupil allowance into an account that parents who withdraw their children from public schools can tap for private-school tuition, tutoring, home schooling, curriculum, materials and other education expenses approved by the state. Parents can roll over funds and use remaining money in the account to finance their child’s college education.

The program had been limited to select groups of students, principally those who have special needs or attend failing schools. More than 3,300 kids currently participate, and state fiscal analysts have estimated ESAs save taxpayers about $1,400 per special-needs student. In addition, nonprofit organizations award more than 60,000 tax-credit scholarships.

Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee have also established ESAs for students with special needs. In 2015, Nevada passed legislation enacting universal ESAs, though that state’s Supreme Court last fall rejected the program’s funding mechanism while upholding its constitutionality. Governor Brian Sandoval didn’t impel his GOP legislative majority to finance accounts for the 8,000 parents who signed up, and he now has to contend for funds in the budget with a Democratic-controlled statehouse.

That means Arizona’s universal ESAs become the most expansive choice program in the country. Every public-school student would be eligible, though new enrollment each year would be capped at 5,000. Accounts would average about $5,600, which is enough to cover tuition at about half of the private schools in the state. The legislation also imposes rigorous accountability measures, including mandated standardized testing and public reporting of the aggregate results.

The Goldwater Institute and American Federation for Children deserve special credit for bringing public pressure to bear on lawmakers. Arizona set school-choice precedents by enacting the country’s first tax-credit scholarship and ESA programs. Here’s hoping more states follow its lead.”

The only problem with the Arizona plan is the enrollment cap. North Carolina reformers need to go big on school choice. Seventy percent of parents support it.