Arizona holds the school choice crown; can it keep it?

Anti-education choice group Save Our Schools Arizona gathered enough signatures to put a 2018 effort of state lawmakers seeking to expand education savings account eligibility up for referendum.

Editor’s note: This commentary from Jason Bedrick, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, first appeared on The Federalist.

Supporters of education freedom and choice have rightly praised the Arizona state Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey for expanding eligibility for the state’s K-12 education savings accounts to all students. Now all Arizona families will be empowered to choose the learning environments that align with their values and work best for their children.

That is, unless opponents of education choice block the expansion from taking effect.

They’ve done it before. When state lawmakers sought to expand ESA eligibility in 2018, the anti-choice group Save Our Schools Arizona gathered enough signatures to put the would-be expansion up for referendum. Voters rejected the measure by a nearly two-to-one margin.

Ever since, SOS has claimed that the vote proved that Arizona voters don’t want school choice. They have condemned all subsequent attempts to expand the ESA as being “against the will of the voters.”

That narrative is politically useful for SOS as they gather signatures to refer the latest expansion to the ballot, but the reality is much more complicated. In fact, many voters opposed the 2018 measure because they supported education choice.

Though technically it expanded ESA-eligibility to all students, practically speaking only a few could benefit. The measure included a cap of about 30,000 students — less than 3 % of the state’s 1.1-plus million K-12 students.

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BY Special to NextSteps