This year, January 24th-30th marks National School Choice Week, and Arizona students and parents alike are getting excited for the upcoming festivities. School choice is a movement that emphasizes options in education, setting up both gifted and struggling students alike for future success by putting our children first and allowing them to live up to their full potential. Almost 1 in 5 U.S. Hispanics believe that education is the most important issue facing our country now, and many see school choice as a solution. A full 71% of Latinos said that they favor school vouchers, and support for Education Savings Accounts and Tuition Tax Credits is even higher, at 73% and 76%, respectively. We have seen a lot of progress in school choice options over the past decade, but there are still plenty of improvements that can be made.
In Arizona, there is a lot to be excited about. The Grand Canyon State is at the forefront of the school choice movement, featuring five private school choice programs, public school choice through open enrollment, a robust charter school system, and even online and digital options. In terms of private school choice, Arizona’s Tuition Tax Credit Program has awarded over 260,000 scholarships to help children learn, and Arizona was the first state in the union to create Education Savings Accounts for special needs children. Public school open enrollment allows students to apply to attend any public school in Arizona, and increased online education allows the maximum flexibility by allowing education to extend beyond the four walls of the classroom. Arizona also has a strong charter school program, with a higher percentage of students attending charter schools than any other state in the nation.
Despite all of this progress, Arizona K-12 education still has many areas that are in dire need of improvement. In Arizona, the face of education more often than not is Hispanic – as of 2014, 44% of Arizona students were Hispanic, a higher percentage than any other single race or ethnicity. Despite this, Arizona Hispanic students have low 4-year graduation rates, at only 69%. Arizona currently ranks 40th in the nation for our college-going rate directly from high school – if you look at the 59,000 Arizona high school graduates (24,000 of whom are Hispanic), 53 % will likely not qualify for admission into an in-state public university. Increased amounts of education funding are being spent on bureaucracy and administration, instead of in the classroom, and schools and teachers are not being held accountable. As a result, too many Arizona students are falling through the cracks.
This is not right. Every student in the United States should graduate from high school as ready as possible for the next stage of life. Whether they’re going off to college, the workforce, or any combination of the two, it is our responsibility to give our children and grandchildren the skills, knowledge, and preparation that they need for the future. Failure is not an option – we need to insist that all America’s children have access to an effective education that challenges them and motivates them to succeed.
Education is a foundation for life, and this is what makes school choice so important – all children, of all ethnicities and all income brackets deserve the same opportunity to achieve an excellent education. Arizona as a state has taken great steps in school choice options, but there is still room for improvement. National School Choice Week reminds us that we all must strive for more for our children, and must refuse to accept schools that do not succeed. A quality education is a right for every child in every state, and school choice is the best way to accomplish this.