By Daniel Stefanski |
Arizona’s first-in-the-nation universal school choice program just hit a major milestone, and it is poised for more successes in the months ahead under a Republican’s stewardship.
Last year, the Arizona Legislature expanded the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) program to include all eligible K-12 students in the state. Former Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, a Democrat, was handed the keys to maintain the legislature’s intent for the program. However, Hoffman did not support the universal expansion of ESAs and according to sources, did not take advantage of all available resources afforded to her by the legislature to ensure the program’s positive developments on behalf of students already in – and yet to join – the system.
At the start of this year, new Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne, became one of the few Republican statewide officeholders and assumed control of the ESA program, which is under the umbrella of the Arizona Department of Education. Per reports since the transition of power, his administration inherited significant problems with the program, and his staff has had to work around the clock to catch up with the outstanding issues and requests in addition to nurturing the program’s growth.
Recently, though, under Superintendent Horne’s watchful eyes, the program has seen more stability and success than ever before, culminating with a recent announcement from the office that there are now 50,000 students enrolled in the ESA program.
When asked to respond to the news of this milestone, Superintendent Horne told AZ Free News, “Students should not be trapped in schools that, in their parents’ judgement, do not meet the particular students’ needs. If the schools are afraid of losing students to private or charter schools, they will make a greater effort to please parents with good academic outcomes.”
This news spread quickly around the state and nation – with many advocates and elected officials chiming in to congratulate Arizona and Superintendent Horne.
Congressman Paul Gosar tweeted, “Arizona is leading the country in education reform; 7 of the top 10 charter schools are in AZ and now with ESA, every student has the choice to find the best school he or she wants.”
Steven Utroska, a Mississippi Director for the State Freedom Caucus Network, wrote, “This is amazing. Could you imagine if 50k students in MS could leave failing government schools and actually get a quality education? It would revolutionize our state, but too many MS politicians would rather pander to the system than provide for the student.”
Jason Bedrick, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, responded, “This is why Arizona is #1 for education choice!”
Despite the good news about enrollment numbers with the program, Superintendent Horne and legislative Republicans have their work cut out for them in the months ahead. Democrat Governor Katie Hobbs and legislative Democrats are seeking to defund and undermine the universal ESA program, eliminating school choice for tens of thousands of Arizona students whose families have elected to participate in the historic opportunity to control their children’s education.
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.