By Amy Carney
In 2018, I wrote an article for Raising Arizona Kids Magazine titled “Six Families, Six Different Approaches to School Choice.”It was the story of our family and five others who all have chosen different educational opportunities for our children. I’ve always loved that my neighbor friends and I share similar values and the same ZIP code. However, we have uniquely chosen to educate our sons and daughters through various Arizona public, charter, and private school options. I had no idea when I wrote the piece that school choice was a controversial topic. I have always believed it beneficial that Arizonans can choose where they want to educate their children based on their needs and desires.
Arizona now leads the way in educational freedom thanks to the universal Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program allowing every child to receive approximately $7000 in education dollars to use for the schooling of their choice, from private to home schools. Unfortunately, in her recent budget proposal, newly elected Governor Katie Hobbs wants to abolish the popular program that is already serving nearly 50,000 children. Most egregiously, Governor Hobbs is endeavoring to cut ESAs through the backdoor, through defunding and against the will of Arizona parents.
Instead of threatening to tear apart a program helping children across Arizona, the Governor should listen and learn why this ESA program is needed and use the information to strengthen the public schools to serve the children in our local communities better. Instead of considering school choice as evil to defeat, we must look at a competitive educational landscape as a way to strengthen our children and our institutions that desperately need it. ESAs and robust school choice options will force our public school systems to pivot their operations and offerings if they want to keep their enrollment numbers from plummeting further.
Competition breeds excellence, and education is not uniquely exempt from this reality. It is the goal of every loving parent to ensure that their child’s upbringing, education, and recreational activities are of the highest learning value and quality they can provide to ensure that their children excel.
As a recently elected Scottsdale Unified Governing Board member in the district where my six children have been educated, I support a parent’s right to choose the best educational fit for their child. Yet, I believe strong communities have strong public schools so I want to fight for those who want or need to stay in their neighborhood schools. Families shouldn’t have to look elsewhere for the rigorous academics and well-rounded extracurricular experiences they desire for their students. But, the reality is that many are choosing other education options over our local public schools in Arizona and across our country – and that is their prerogative.
Let’s not blame school choice or the programs associated with them for our declining enrollment in our public schools. The goal of state educational authorities is not, or should not be, to preserve the size and budget of the public school system at all costs, but rather to facilitate the quality education of every student in their state. Let’s continue to support and expand education freedom across our country so that our children, families, and communities can thrive.