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A Shining Light of Hope: Arizonans Celebrate Success of Universal ESAs

June 15, 2023

One-size-fits-all education no longer has the grip on parents and children that it used to. Today, parents are celebrating new opportunities and educational freedom for their children through a ground-breaking advancement in school choice: universal Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs). That was the subject of a recent Manhattan and Goldwater Institute event in Arizona, where parents, educators, community leaders, and policy analysts gathered to discuss the significance of the newly enacted universal ESA program for Arizona families.

Through ESAs—which the Goldwater Institute first proposed in 2005—parents can take control of their child’s path. Money that would have supported a child in public schools becomes available to them regardless of the education they choose. The program supports many styles of education, including at-home education, private schooling, and microschooling. ESA funds can be applied toward expenses like tuition, curriculum building, supplies, tutoring, and more.

Former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who last year signed the Goldwater Institute’s landmark reform expanding ESA eligibility to every child in the state, spoke at the Manhattan Institute’s event about why giving parents more choice in education is so important. “Parents are actually very good consumers,” Gov. Ducey said. “They know when their child is not being challenged. They know when their child is not engaged.” Indeed, many parents are dissatisfied with inadequate academics, woke agendas, and mismanagement of funds. ESAs are a shining light of hope amidst the turmoil. For them, public schools aren’t always the wrong choice, but they aren’t right for every child or family.

Thanks to Goldwater’s work to enact universal school choice, Arizona’s universal ESA program is the new gold standard for school choice. And in 2023 alone, four more states have followed Goldwater’s lead and enacted universal ESAs. Nicole Stelle Garnett, Senior Fellow at Manhattan Institute, explained why ESAs are so powerful. “They are not scholarships. They are much, much more. They allow parents to customize education.” Foster children, children with learning disabilities, children with special interests, and academically advanced children often benefit from ESAs the most.

The universal ESA program arrives at a critical time. Public schools are indoctrinating children with politically charged content, including Critical Race Theory, all while failing to keep student performance up in basic subjects like reading, mathematics, and civics. Thanks to ESAs, parents can ensure that their child’s school aligns with their values and meets academic standards, or even choose to educate their child entirely from home.

Additionally, ESAs encourage parents, educators, and community members to become entrepreneurs by creating innovative solutions to educational challenges. For example, Great Hearts Academy, a top charter school system in Arizona, recently established new private Christian locations. According to Great Hearts Christos’ executive director, Dr. Toyin Atolagbe, “The goal of education should be to educate a child intellectually and morally.” This philosophy sets Great Heart apart from public schools. Previously, many families could not afford the cost of tuition, but the ESA program makes their enrollment at Great Hearts Christos possible.

Critics of ESAs argue that the estimated $900 million price tag is too expensive and will hurt public schools. However, Goldwater Director of Education Policy Matt Beienburg debunked this myth. “The ESA program gives a typical student about $7,000 a year. The average spending for Arizona school districts is $14,000 per student,” Beienburg said. Therefore, “When they say $900 million, that’s not the marginal cost. That’s not a new cost to the state. That’s the total price.” He also noted that public schools continue to receive more funding per student even as the ESA program has grown.

The Goldwater Institute knows that America’s families are best off when they can make decisions for themselves. Goldwater’s policy experts have led the fight for school choice in Arizona and will continue to advocate for the expansion of ESAs across the nation.

Cameron Teel is a Ronald Reagan Fellow at the Goldwater Institute.



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