Editor’s note: This commentary from Matt Beienburg, director of education policy and director of the Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy at the Goldwater Institute, appeared Monday on the Daily Independent from Sun City, Arizona.
What’s the best way to celebrate a big school choice birthday? Give more educational opportunities to more students.
And some states are marking one milestone by doing just that. Nearly 10 years ago to the day, the Arizona Legislature passed the nation’s first education savings account program.
ESAs allow families to receive a portion of the dollars being used on their children’s education and instead use that money to pay for tuition, tutors and teaching tools that best meet their child’s needs. Pioneered by the Goldwater Institute, where I work, and known officially in Arizona as Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, this program has expanded from helping just 144 kids at its inception to now serving some 10,000 Arizona students.
Throughout that time, Goldwater has been leading efforts to boost educational freedom, working with our peers across the country to make similar reforms in their own states. Now, eight states have followed Goldwater’s lead and adopted their own ESA program.
Over the past few months, legislators across the country have responded to the needs of their families — and to the actions of teachers’ unions and politicians who have shut down schooling and displaced student learning because of COVID-19.
In Goldwater’s home state of Arizona, for example, state lawmakers are working to extend ESA eligibility in the Grand Canyon State to low-income students and children of military families, which would expand Arizona’s program to thousands more students than are currently eligible.
Indeed, as the Educational Freedom Institute’s Active Legislation Map makes clear, building frustration over closed schools and pent-up demand for educational choice have let loose a whirlwind of potential new student opportunities across the nation, with more than half of states pursuing new legislation to allow families greater say over the education of their kids.
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