Last week may have been the school-choice movement’s best effort in a long time, with Arizona leading the way for systemic education reform and expanded opportunities.
Monday the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the latest challenge to Arizona’s tuition scholarship tax-credit program, which provides dollar-for-dollar tax credits for contributions to private school scholarships. Following the reasoning of the Arizona Supreme Court, the high court ruled that because tax credits leave money in the hands of taxpayers, they never become public funds. As a result, under federal law, taxpayers do not have standing to challenge the program.
Later in the week, the Arizona Legislature increased the amount of the tax credit for the scholarship program from $1,000 to $1,500 per couple.
Then on Thursday, the Arizona Legislature became the first in the country to approve education savings accounts, an idea born at the Goldwater Institute. When eligible students leave public schools, the state will fund an account with a portion of the dollars that would have been spent on their public education. Money in an ESA can be used for many educational purposes, from distance learning to private school tuition, curriculum software, or tutoring. Any money left over can be used for college after a student graduates from high school. ESAs reduce taxpayer costs while increasing schooling options.
The initial pilot is limited to children with disabilities, who lost their voucher program in 2009 when the Arizona Supreme Court struck it down under the state constitution. This program is designed to comply with the Court’s ruling in that case.
ESAs have the potential to create a truly 21st century system of public education, in which every child is empowered to pursue the best possible schooling without stifling and costly bureaucracy and special-interest pressures. The bill creating the pilot program now awaits action from Governor Jan Brewer.
Finally, amidst the contentious federal budget deal just before midnight D.C.-time, Congress reauthorized the District of Columbia school voucher program, whose expansion congressional Democrats had previously halted. Now the Obamas will no longer be the only people in D.C. who live in public housing who get to send their kids to private school.
The Goldwater Institute will continue to pioneer such student-centered education reforms, while celebrating unprecedented success.
Clint Bolick is director of the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.
Goldwater Institute: Education Savings Accounts: Giving Parents Control of Their Children’s Education
Goldwater Institute: New Harvard report on tuition tax credit debunks myths
Washington Post: Budget deal includes D.C. abortion rider, money for school vouchers
Arizona Legislature: Senate Bill 1553 authorizing education savings accounts
Editors Note: On April 12, 2011, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the legislature's bill to increase the amount of the tuition scholarship tax credit program.