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School Choice Blooms in the Desert

Students arrive on the Gila Ridge High School campus in Yuma, Ariz., Sept. 17, 2020.


Randy Hoeft/Associated Press

The school choice movement continues to gain support, and the latest breakthrough is legislation in Arizona that will expand the availability of education savings accounts for any K-12 student in the state who wants one.

Arizona was the first state to create an education savings account (ESA) program in 2011. But only some students can apply—such as those with disabilities, in low-performing schools, or who reside on an Indian reservation.

The new bill allows any of the state’s more than a million K-12 students to be eligible for more than $6,000 for education expenses, including private school tuition and curricular materials. Most other state programs cap the number of students, set income eligibility requirements, or require students to be enrolled in public schools to apply. Arizona’s program may be the nation’s broadest.

The bill also expands the use of ESA funds for transportation and such equipment as computers or other education technology. The scholarship money is funded by the state and equal to 90% of what the state would provide for charter-school students. It will follow students to the schools of their choice—private, charter, or traditional union-dominated district schools.

“Arizona has long been a pioneer in education choice. Now, with this historic expansion of ESAs, we’ll continue to charter the path for others to follow suit,” tweeted Republican Gov.

Doug Ducey,

who has promoted school choice during his two terms and is expected to sign the legislation.

The bill is a striking political turnaround in a state where the teachers union advocacy group known as Save Our Schools spent big in 2018 to defeat a ballot measure to expand ESAs. Three House Republicans who opposed a smaller expansion of the state’s ESAs last year flipped and voted for the new bill.

One reason may be that Mr. Ducey’s budget includes more than $500 million in additional funding for public schools. That helped to blunt the familiar union claim that ESAs siphon money from public schools. But perhaps these Republicans also noticed that support for school choice has increased since the pandemic.

Parents discovered that district officials and unions often weren’t responsive to their concerns on school closures, the curriculum, and mask mandates, as

Corey DeAngelis

writes nearby. Recent primary election victories by reform challengers in Iowa against lawmakers who rejected Gov.

Kim Reynolds’s

ESA reform bill may be concentrating minds elsewhere.

Govs. Reynolds and Ducey are right to take this political moment to push for school choice expansions that will build a larger constituency for the programs. When unions that dominate school governance realize they don’t have a monopoly on education finance, they may do more to improve the schools they run. And if they don’t, parents will have the freedom and resources to do better by their children.

Journal Editorial Report: The week’s best and worst from Kim Strassel, Kyle Peterson and Dan Henninger. Images: Composite: Mark Kelly

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Appeared in the June 28, 2022, print edition.

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