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Arizona’s ‘Save Our Schools’ Activists Are Really Trying To Keep Other People From Opportunity


What do the Save Our Schools Arizona activists and Melbourne, Australia, taxi drivers have in common? Quite a bit, actually. They both want to obstruct progress and maintain a less efficient status quo. And they don’t seem to care who they harm in the process.

In August, more than 100 Melbourne cabs blocked roads to the airport to protest an expansion of ridesharing services by Uber and Lyft—not the best way to engender goodwill from potential customers. Over the years, we’ve seen similar fruitless displays from cabbies around the world, even in our nation’s capital.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, Save Our Schools Arizona activists marched petitions to the Arizona secretary of state’s office to block the expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts and more students’ access to educational freedom in the state. In each case, I get it. Change can be scary, especially if you have a vested interest. But progress improves lives.

Clutching After New Ideas That Work Powerfully

Uber and Lyft harnessed technological advancement to disrupt the marketplace and provide customers with better, more efficient services. We need to allow the same to happen for our country’s antiquated public education system. It’s a nineteenth-century model that’s proven woefully uncompetitive in the twenty-first-century world.

American students routinely underperform compared to their peers in the industrialized world. In the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment that examined 71 countries, the U.S. placed 38th in math and 24th in science. If we’re going to compete globally, we must provide our students with a better education. Arizona’s high-performing charter schools show that change and educational innovation hold the key.

The state has 547 charter schools that served 180,000 kids last year. These schools present a variety of options and allow teachers the freedom to adapt their classrooms to meet the unique learning needs of each student. This system, which spends less per student than traditional public schools, is the second-best in the country, just behind Massachusetts public schools—and the Bay State spends a whole lot more per student to get there.

Empowerment Scholarship Accounts give families yet another innovative tool with which to customize their child’s learning experience and improve education outcomes. Arizona’s ESAs have been around for several years, primarily serving our state’s special-needs kids. Funds from the program can be used to pay for a variety of educational purposes like supplemental tutoring, instruction, therapies, homeschooling supplies, and tuition at an independent school.

ESAs have been so successful that state lawmakers this year voted to expand them, making virtually all Arizona students eligible, although they did establish a 30,000 cap on the total number of students who could enroll.

In some circles, this move—to allow more students access to the right learning environment for them—was controversial. Save Our Schools Arizona, the loudest opponents of ESAs, identifies itself as a group of parents with “kids at public schools, charter schools, and private schools.” They support school choice but oppose educational freedom for families with students who need something other than a charter or public school but cannot afford it out of pocket.

Schools Should Not Be Locked Down Like This

Every child deserves a quality education. Getting one should not depend on their ZIP code or the size of their parents’ bank account. These opponents of ESAs claim that expanding the program will hurt Arizona public school students by taking dollars out of their classrooms, which they argue are already underfunded. But ESA funds are earmarked for students and should follow them.

What’s more, Arizona spends nearly $10,000 per traditional public school student. The average class size is around 25 students. That means there’s close to $250,000 per classroom. Yet the average teacher makes only $42,000 a year and anyone who knows a teacher is well aware that they spend a lot of their own money on classroom supplies. That raises the question: Where does the rest of the money go?

Far too much is wasted on bloated administrative costs and other non-student or non-instruction related expenses. Our schools must become more efficient and student-focused. Charter schools, ESAs, and other innovative programs will shake up the marketplace to make that happen, improving all Arizona schools and resulting in a better education for all Arizona students.

Just like Melbourne cabbies, ESA opponents can cause all the irresponsible gridlock they want but in the end, they can’t halt progress. Uber, Lyft, and ESAs are innovative solutions that are here to stay—and grow.