My View: How ESAs can ‘save our kids’ to improve Arizona education standards

On Sept. 24, Save our Schools (SOS) turned in 141,714 petition signatures for verification in an attempt to overturn Arizona’s comprehensive version of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, or HB 2853, thus blocking the expansion of parental choice in education.  

Let’s face it – SOS is a special interest group focused on propping up a largely failed, one-size-fits-all bureaucratic public education system. It’s a system that does not meet the needs of all children to succeed. Even their name betrays them, announcing a primary focus on “schools” not kids.

A teacher supporting the Save our Schools efforts, Sarah Martino, says ESAs will take funds away from public-school classrooms like hers. Martino complains that she wasn’t provided with funds for much needed support staff and supplies and that she had to buy supplies with her own money. Rather than using this as a talking point to stop ESA expansion, her story exposes the poor stewardship and misallocation of funds in the state’s education budget. 

Billions of dollars continue to be invested in Arizona’s public schools, and yet they fail to set kids up for success. From 2015 to 2020, according to the Arizona Education Progress Meter, the attainment goal was for 72% of third graders to advance to the next level of reading by the end of the school year. Instead, it merely moved from 41% to 46%, or 1% per year, during that five-year period.

Parents deserve the right to have access to the average of $6,500 a year from an ESA to put toward educational options outside of public schools. In Arizona this includes their choice of private school tuition and homeschooling expenses, online schooling, and transportation expenses to schools. And let’s put ESAs in perspective. To date, only 12,000 students have used the program, including mostly those in adoptive or foster care, special needs and military students. So far ESAs are not exactly draining public school coffers.

Education should focus on parental rights

Still, the Goldwater Institute shares stories of how ESAs have helped a mom with an autistic child, enabling her to make the educational choices the family knew were best for their son because they know him the best. Another family’s autistic son was in a class in public school with students of varying needs and felt their sons’ specific needs were being overlooked. This is an example of the one-size-fits-all environment that characterizes government school classrooms. 

In the 20th century leading up to the present we have seen the expansion of gross government overreach as it monopolized the K-12 system and gained control over parents and their kids.

But we must remind ourselves who is in the driver’s seat of a child’s education. The 1979 law that established the U.S. Department of Education states that it is the primary responsibility of parents to direct the education of their children, and it is the primary responsibility of states and localities to support that. Save our Schools does not have the rights of parents at heart in their drive to force children to conform, and often putting a round peg into a square hole. America is about opportunity, freedom of choice and parental rights when it comes to setting up kids for success; not being forced to bow to special interest groups that want to dictate to you how to educate your child. 

In 1958, Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright (1905–1995) opined on the real purpose of education as “the rigorous training of the intellect rather than the gentle cultivation of the personality. Courses in life adjustment and coed cooking will not do the job. Mathematics, languages, the natural sciences, and history must once again become the core of the curriculum.”  

And now look how much further we have fallen. In today’s schools we would sub in transgender and noncomforming gender student plans and critical race theory for life adjustment and coed cooking. 

The bottom line is parents know best – and that is why at FreedomWorks we are coming alongside parents across this country to build a Better Education for Students and Teachers.

Tamra Farah is senior adviser for Strategic Partnerships with the BEST Education Initiative at FreedomWorks.