Recently, I looked under the hood of Arizona’s nation-leading academic growth by examining district and charter schools in downtown Phoenix. Two things stood out: lots of academic growth and a great deal of variety in approaches.

District and charter schools in combination operating within the boundary of Phoenix Elementary (a high poverty district covering downtown Phoenix) have a rate of academic growth 27% higher than average. I believe that the variety of approaches is key; Phoenix kids had access to two classical/traditional schools, two Montessori schools, two schools focused on the arts, and a school sponsored by Arizona State University.

The options for these students don’t end there, however. About one-third of Phoenix-area students utilize open enrollment to attend a district school that is not their zoned school. Phoenix kids can attend suburban districts like Madison Unified and Scottsdale Unified. Arizona also has scholarship tax credit programs and the Empowerment Scholarship Program to enable students to attend private schools.

All is far from perfect. Charter schools have waitlists, as to do School Tuition Organizations providing tax credit assistance. Only about one-quarter of Arizona students qualify for the education savings account program. Open enrollment is available, but transportation is the sole responsibility of families.

Downtown Phoenix may look great from a growth and choice perspective relative to most central city areas, but work remains to be done. Every waitlist is a policy failure.

This system continues to evolve, and educators continue to create new opportunities for Arizona’s inner-city families. State lawmakers are considering transportation assistance for low-income students. Moreover, the Arizona Black Mothers Forum has begun opening micro-schools as another option for inner-city families.

Click here to learn more about Black Minds Matter’s inaugural Black-Owned Schools tour. The video gives a glimpse into what empowerment means to people via an interview conducted by Florida’s own Denisha Merriweather with Janelle Wood, founder of the Arizona Black Mothers Forum Micro-school. The interview is a tour de force of community empowerment.

“It’s time for the mothers to take over and do what we need to do,” Wood states. “We can’t just talk about it, we need to be about it.”

I highly encourage you to watch the interview in full, as I cannot do it justice.

Millions of mothers made the decision to leave the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic. Choice policies give these women the tools they need to take control of their children’s education.

Another big trend we may see in Arizona: districts expanding and replicating their high-demand schools. #TeamEdsel of course will resist, but the positive incentives are in place and there are highly capable and innovative professionals operating in Arizona districts.

Stay tuned to this channel for updates.

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