A few weeks back, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed legislation making his state the first in the nation to codify universal school choice into law. The new law expands the state’s “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts,” which were established 2011 and originally applied only to children with special needs.
The traditional education model redirects taxpayer money to government schools. State schools and districts then decide how best to use the money. Instead of maintaining the failing status quo, Arizona will be allowing parents to take control of their money so that it may be used for the education that best meets their family’s needs.
The scholarship money can be spent on private education, online learning programs, tutoring, homeschool curricula, testing fees, and more. The average amount provided per student without disabilities is $5,700. That number increases to $19,000 for children with disabilities.
The enormity of this victory for Arizona students and families cannot be overstated. School choice is the single most important reform needed to improve primary education because, as we have discovered, the problem with education is not a shortage of money. From 1970 to 2010, federal education spending per student increased 375%. Over that same period, student achievement has remained entirely stagnant. Increasing funding will not fix the systemic inefficiencies and backward incentive structures that have led to failing schools across the country.
The traditional method of funding education, which entails transferring funds from government treasuries to government schools, does not work. Throwing money at the problem simply cements this deeply flawed structure into place. The systemic inefficiency and corruption has metastasized to the point that the system desperately needs to be reset. (For great investigative reporting on education system and teachers union corruption, watch the documentary The Cartel.)
Low-income students are most harmed by the current education system. Well-to-do families can afford to send their kids to private schools if their local public school isn’t up-to-par, but those without the necessary funds have no choice but to send their kid to a failing institution.
Not only does the quality of education suffer without competition, but the content is souring as public educators become bolder pushing leftist ideology on students. Secular humanism and progressive politics pervade every academic subject, and many parents with traditional values are worried their children’s schools are promoting values at odds with their family’s beliefs.
The answer to both the quality and content problems is very simple: Give education funding to families. Make schools compete for students by giving parents control over where education funding goes. Give the districts no choice but to increase the quality of the education and provide a balanced worldview. As parents use education money in ways that best serve their children, schools that don’t provide quality education will either improve or be replaced by schools that do.
In many areas of the country, including parts of Washington, students are locked into the school that serves their community. If the local public school is terrible, too bad. Unless you’re able to pay out-of-pocket for private school education, your kid will have to settle for a subpar government education and be left behind his or her peers attending better schools in other zip codes.
Giving parents the ability to customize their child’s education to the individual needs of their child should be a slam dunk bipartisan reform for the divided houses in Olympia. There’s no reason for the current top-down, one-size-fits-all education system to continue. Families should be allowed to use their own tax dollars to decide how their child gets educated and tailor that education to their child’s needs.
Forcing them to settle for whatever education the government provides, however terrible that education may be, is not only detrimental to both family and society but also deeply immoral. We cannot allow those opposing reforms to continue robbing students, especially low-income students in failing school districts, of their potential and of the quality education they deserve.
James Silberman is a guest contributor to the FPIW Blog. He is a pro-life activist from Gig Harbor, WA, and a student at Whitworth University.