The Wall Street Journal called 2011 the “Year of School Choice,” and with good reason. Thirteen states, including Arizona, passed or expanded choice-based reforms. Some two dozen other states considered similar legislation.
There is still time for Arizona lawmakers to make 2012 an encore performance.
What is most striking about the 2011 reforms enacted around the country is the programs’ inclusive designs. That is, for the past 20 years, programs that allow students to choose a public or private school of choice have been small in scope. When school voucher programs became law, often student eligibility would be limited to children with special needs (such as Florida’s McKay Scholarships) or low-income students in individual cities or districts (like Milwaukee, Wisconsin).
Private school-choice reforms were seen as policy solutions for specific student groups, not a way to change how all students access education.
Yet in 2011, lawmakers in several states (including Indiana and Wisconsin) passed new reforms or expanded existing programs with broad eligibility provisions.
In 2012, there have not been as many bills signed into law (yet), but in Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal just signed a reform package that is designed to reach more than just isolated student groups. Lawmakers in the Bayou passed a set of bills that allow parents of students in failing schools to petition to close their school or convert it to a charter (a similar bill passed the Arizona Senate this year) and allow low and middle-income students in schools rated “C” or below access to school vouchers.
Arizona lawmakers still have time to follow suit and expand the state’s unique education savings account program to students in the state’s lowest-performing schools and military families. Offering parents and students choices of education services is no longer a reform for a minority of students.
Around the country, education reform is finally moving from “choices for some” to “choices for all.”
Wall Street Journal: School Vouchers Gain Ground
Wall Street Journal: The Year of School Choice