School choice has become incredibly popular among voters over the last few years, as public schools continue to experience declining test scores, the politicization of curriculum, the injection of woke ideology, the prioritization of teachers’ unions over children, and school hostility towards parents’ rights.
Over the last two weeks, Utah and Iowa have passed statewide school choice programs, becoming only the second and third state to do so, following Arizona. Other states are also hoping to pass similar laws in the 2023 legislative session.
Here’s a round-up of only some of what’s happening on this front:
Gov. Spencer Cox, R, signed the Funding for Teacher Salaries and Optional Education Act last weekend. The law launches the Utah Fits All Scholarship program, which gives students $8,000 to use for education expenses, including private school tuition. The program is open to all students, though in its first year it will be limited to 5,000 students. The law will not reduce funding for any public schools in the first year of the program. The law also raises teachers’ salaries by $6,000 and will give public schools that lose students through the program $1,200 in funding for each student that leaves, meaning the school no longer has to bear the cost or labor of teaching the student but will actually receive more money.
Gov. Cox said in a statement,
“We also appreciate that HB 215 gives Utah parents additional options to meet the needs of their families. School choice works best when we adequately fund public education and we remove unnecessary regulations that burden our public schools and make it difficult for them to succeed. We are especially appreciative of our teachers and education leaders who helped push for more accountability measures which were not included in the original bill.”
Utah is the third state to pass a universal school choice bill and the second this year.
Gov. Kim Reynolds, R, signed a universal school choice law on January 24 that will soon allow all of the state’s students to use $7,600 on various educational expenses. Iowa’s law also grants flexibility to public schools in raising teachers’ salaries and gives over $1,200 to schools when a student leaves through the school choice program.
The legislation had been a top priority for Reynolds for the last three years. “What an amazing day for our children!” Reynolds said as supporters gathered for the bill signing.
Reynolds had faced two failed attempts to pass school choice legislation, leading her to campaign for candidates who supported school choice, even those that went up against incumbent Republicans who had voted against the legislation previously.
“Public schools are the foundation of our educational system, and for most families, they’ll continue to be the option of choice. But they aren’t the only choice. And for some families, a different path may be better for their children,” the Governor said.
Reynolds told CBN about why school choice is so important, saying,
“I believe parents should be able to decide what is the best environment for their child to be everything that they can be. COVID really put a fine point on that because it gave parents a front-row seat to what was happening in their child’s classroom. And … a lot of them didn’t like what they were seeing.”
The Virginia General Assembly is currently considering four school choice bills, any of which would create similar universal programs. The bills would create accounts for parents to use for expenses relating to supplemental or alternative options to public education.
Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle Sears, R, a vocal supporter of school choice, said,
“The 2022 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores confirm that many of our children are not learning the basics of math and reading. Sadly, communities of color were hit the hardest. We will continue to invest in our public schools, and we currently fund them at the highest level in history, but we must provide options for students who need a lifeline now. We can do both. We need to empower parents to make choices on their child’s education regardless of zip code. Our children don’t get do-overs.”
Arizona has been the gold standard for school choice in America. Last year, then Gov. Doug Ducey signed the nation’s first universal school choice law allowing all of the state’s 1.1 million students to use about $7,000 a year for education expenses, such as private school tuition, homeschooling curriculum, and more.
Arizona had school choice before 2022, but the program had been limited and only certain students and schools were experiencing benefits.
Arizona implemented tax credit scholarships in 1997 and its Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) in 2011. The highest proportion of students using the program had come from poorer districts. The program saved the state money and allowed districts losing students to keep $600 in funding even though they were no longer educating the student. Arizona led the nation in gains on the National Assessment of Education Progress.
Though critics claim that school choice will harm rural students, Arizona shows otherwise. From 2007 to 2019 “Arizona rural students’ fourth and eighth grade reading and math scores on the National Assessment for Educational Progress increased by a combined 21 points, while scores in rural schools nationally decreased by two points. On the most recent NAEP, post-pandemic, Arizona’s rural students were still up a combined nine points while rural students nationally dropped 17 points from 2007.”
The expansion of the program only seemed natural considering its success. Yet Arizona’s new Gov. Katie Hobbs, D, opposes the program. Last year Hobbs said she never supported the ESA program. “This voucher system we are under now doesn’t provide real choice in educational opportunity for most families. It diverts resources from public schools and provides a subsidy for already wealthy children whose parents could already afford private education for them,” Hobbs told PBS.
Shortly after her inauguration, Hobbs maligned the school choice program in her State of the State address, while advocating for more funding for public schools. She stated,
“And rather than doing the right thing and facing these challenges head on, the previous Legislature passed a massive expansion of school vouchers that lacks accountability and will likely bankrupt the state. In fact, funding this expansion is poised to cost Arizona taxpayers an estimated $1.5 billion over the next 10 years if left unaddressed.”
She also argued that all school districts should be funded fairly and that rural and poorer districts were being “left behind.” In truth, the three school districts that had the highest proportion of students opt for the state’s school choice program were in impoverished districts; however, those districts, which were failing badly, had actually been receiving much higher funding per pupil than the average district.
Hobbs also stated that individuals and shady corporations were taking advantage of the system and advocated for any school that accepts public dollars to participate in the Auditor General’s annual school spending report and “take other steps to ensure our taxpayer dollars are going where they should and being spent properly.”
Hobbs’s chances of hamstringing the program are low as the legislature currently has a narrow Republican majority. House Majority Leader Leo Biasiucci recently tweeted that attacks on school choice were on a list of “nonstarters.”
School choice reveals much about our leaders. Vouchers, ESAs, and other school choice types have unified the American people like little else. A massive majority of Americans from every race, ethnicity, geographic location, political affiliation, and background support school choice, especially when surveyors describe what ESA and voucher programs are.
What’s more, a mountain of evidence in the form of studies shows that school choice benefits students, not only students who use school choice, but students in public schools.
The lies repeated by teachers’ unions and left-wing politicians they support are meant to trick parents and other lawmakers into continuing to support a failed government education system that grants power those same unions and politicians. These “education experts” think parents, who pay for the schools, should have no ability to pull their child out of a failing school district, arguing that if students leave, the already woefully failing school district will somehow fail worse. They says students must stay in order to help support a district, at the expense of the children’s future.
Gov. Kim Reynolds tried for two years to get Iowa’s school choice law passed because she knew it would help students. When it failed for a second time due to Republican opposition, she campaigned against members of her own party because her loyalty is with students, not teachers’ unions and not her party. It worked, and after pro-school choice Republicans were elected, the legislation was passed.
The message is clear: If we want school choice, we must run for it, we must campaign for it, we must vote for it.
When over 70 percent of the country wants school choice, and studies prove that it is in the best interest of students, it’s time for politicians to get on board. If they won’t, they need to be voted out. Teachers’ unions don’t care about the education of kids — if they did they would be in favor of letting students leave government schools and pursue other options while also working to improve the education offered in public schools. Instead, they favor holding your child and your dollars hostage to their own greed and lust for power.
The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that parents, not the state, have a natural right and duty to oversee the care and education of their children. Moreover, Proverbs 22:6 exhorts parents to
“Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.
No one knows the unique needs of a child better than his or her parents, and thus no one is more capable of advocating wisely for that child. It is time for the state to put families first and let parents direct their tax dollars to an educational outlet that will ensure that their children get the best education possible. Public schools can be a part of that equation, but they’ll need to step up their game and start fully serving the academic needs of children and families, rather than their own selfish ambitions and agendas.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.