When Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed HB 2853 into law on July 7, more than 1.1 million K-12 students within the state were provided school choice. Opening the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account to all students is the landmark expansion of school choice — the largest in the nation. No other state comes close. As a result, Arizona has been dubbed the “gold standard” of educational freedom.
The move is in the best interest of Arizona families. Parents who opt to participate will receive more than $6,500 per student per year. Funds are highly flexible and can be allocated toward private school tuition, micro-schools, home-school expenses or other educational avenues.
With the growing parental dissatisfaction with traditional public education, the accounts provide families a way out from assigned public schools, which will further fuel the current exodus from government-run schools.
Where will all these students go, since over the past two school years private school enrollment has reached full capacity and most have waitlists? To meet the demand, the opportunity is ripe for education entrepreneurs — termed “edupreneurs.”
Knowing consumers have $6,500 per child to spend per school year gives edupreneurs a leg up on other entrepreneurs, who face significant uncertainty in building business models based on forecast consumer spending margins. Working from the $6,500 figure backward, K-12 education products and services can be created to meet the instant large-scale market demand at a price consumers are able to pay thanks to their empowerment scholarship account. Edupreneurs can provide offerings ranging from full service in-person private school creation to more innovative and flexible models that deliver instruction in less traditional avenues.
Adding additional stimulus to the effort, the Yass Foundation has announced $1 million for “STOP for Arizona Education Awards” for state education providers who “embody the guiding principles of a Sustainable, Transformational, Outstanding and Permissionless education.” Five Arizona Edupreneurs who can articulate how their model can be scaled to serve significantly more students will be eligible for a $100,000 prize, with one exceptional provider receiving the $500,000 Ducey Prize.
Over the next few years, as more edupreneurs come on the scene, and parents are able to use their state-issued funding to select education for their children from an array of innovative options, quality and transparency will be demanded. K-12 schools will have to demonstrate they can provide high-quality student learning and exceptional customer service in a cost-effective manner to remain competitive.
This is a watershed moment for K-12 education in Arizona. As parents taste the new alternatives brought about by education freedom, it’s unlikely they will want to return to the mediocrity of government K-12 schools. Additionally, the power of word of mouth will lure those whose children remain in traditional public schools this year to consider making a move.
The positive effects could be far-reaching. In the new environment of education freedom, parents will be able to select a school that aligns with the values they want reinforced during the school day. Schools will be accountable to parents — as the customers — for the education quality provided and their specific student’s learning results.
Furthermore, Arizona will reap significant economic and societal benefits from breaking the K-12 monopoly. Students will exit the Arizona K-12 education system better prepared for the workforce and adulthood, resulting in economic benefits. Families from other states will want to move to Arizona so that they, too, can exercise educational choice for their children, helping to address the labor shortage in Arizona.
Educational choice also offers the promise of breaking the union-controlled public education system that is plagued by a far left political agenda, which is waging war on the basic identity of children and teens through the promotion of critical race theory concepts and radical gender ideology. Also, not tolerated by parents financially empowered to enroll their children elsewhere will be the enforcement of disciplinary measures and awarding grades based on desired skin color and ethnicity group outcomes rather than individual actions and merit.
But this isn’t limited to one state. Arizona is a test case for applying free market principles to K-12 education, and the rest of the nation will look on with watchful eyes. Observing the statewide transformation likely to occur over the next several years, it will only be a matter of time before other states follow Arizona’s lead.
• Keri D. Ingraham is a fellow at Discovery Institute and director of the Institute’s American Center for Transforming Education.