Arizona Shows That Educational Freedom Works

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Carlos Alfaro Arizona Coalitions Director for the LIBRE Institute
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Families in Arizona have more freedom to choose the school that is best for their children than in any other state in the country. And the science is settled: Educational freedom works.

In Maricopa County, the most populous county in Arizona, a recent study by the Center for Student Achievement and researchers at Yale University found nearly 50 percent of public school students attend either a charter school or take advantage of open enrollment, meaning they attend a district public school other than their neighborhood district school. The study didn’t include kids who are home schooled or enrolled in private schools, but when you factor them in, it’s fair to say that exercising educational freedom is the norm for families in Maricopa County.

And all across Arizona, the quality of education is improving as a result. Between 2009 and 2015, the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed Arizona led the nation in improvements in math, English, and science.

Some critics mistakenly claim that giving families more choice is not the driving force behind these improvements. But 49 other states have increased funding, expanded benefits for teachers and employees, reduced class sizes, or attempted to find other solutions to improve education in their states, but none of them has been as successful as Arizona. And the difference is educational choice.

Consider our charter schools. Five of the top seven public high schools in the nation are Arizona charters and the charter school system in the Grand Canyon State is one of the top school systems in the country. Over the past several years, charter students from all racial and ethnic groups have consistently outperformed the state average for their subgroups.

What’s more, charter schools achieve these impressive results while spending less per student than traditional public schools.

Right now, my organization — The LIBRE Institute — is talking to families in Arizona about educational choice and informing them of the options available to all Arizona families. While each family has a unique story and experience, we have found that the families we talk to care first and foremost about more options and opportunities for their kids.

For Shawntel Ojeda, who has two daughters enrolled at a Great Hearts Charter School in Arizona, the academics are important, but so is “their focus on character development,” she says. “The idea behind these Great Hearts Schools is they…just really have a desire to create thinkers who really love to learn and have a desire to be world changers.”

Other families have been able to find the right fit for their kids through tax credit scholarships and programs that let education funding follow the student. The funds can be used for a variety of purposes to meet the unique educational needs of the child, including homeschool curriculum, tutoring, educational therapy, and private school tuition. These programs enjoy high levels of satisfaction among participating families and result in better academic results for students.

That’s because children are unique. They all learn differently but they can excel when they’re in a learning environment that is suited to their needs. It shouldn’t matter if that’s a public school, private school, charter school, vocational school, at home or online. What matters is finding the best fit for each student and ensuring that all of those choices are available to every child.  And that’s the goal of Arizona’s innovative educational choice programs.

Arizona demonstrates that giving families more choice and educational freedom improves academic outcomes and brightens futures. The rest of the country should be taking notes.

Carlos Alfaro is the Arizona Coalitions Director for the LIBRE Institute.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.