“Every child deserves to have an education tailored to meet their needs, and parents deserve the right to make that choice,” stated Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) last year. A self-professed proponent of school choice, last night she shed that mantle and vetoed legislation that would have provided significant new choices to students in failing schools.
Last year, Arizona was on the forefront of a school choice revolution, thanks in large part to Governor Brewer. The Grand Canyon State created first-in-the-nation Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA). Through the ESAs, parents of special-needs children who believe their assigned public school isn’t meeting their child’s needs can have 90 percent of the money the public school would have spent deposited into an education savings account. Parents can then use the money to pay for private-school tuition, online learning options, special education services, and a variety of other educational expenses.
ESAs truly empowered parents to tailor their special-needs children’s educational experiences to best meet their specific learning requirements. Moreover, this innovative approach to school choice had education reformers looking west for inspiration in other states. It was one of the highlights of “The Year of School Choice” in 2011.
This year, a proposed expansion of education savings accounts would have provided choice to any child trapped in a school rated as “D” or “F” or any child with a military parent.
Last night, Brewer blocked the door to better options for these students by vetoing the proposed legislation. In a statement about her veto decision, Brewer argued that “we must also ensure that government is not artificially manipulated [sic] the market through state budget or tax policy in a manner that would make an otherwise viable option so unattractive that it undermines rational choice in a competitive market.”
Actually, what’s distorted is today’s public education system. Children are assigned by zip code to attend a public school. If that school is not adequate academically or in terms of safety, those parents who can afford private education do so at double expense—paying their local property taxes to public education while also paying private-school tuition. An expansion of ESAs would actually correct government manipulation of the market, favoring parents and children, not the education establishment. ESAs empower parents to use their share of education funding to choose from educational options. It’s built on the notion that “public” education doesn’t have to mean government schools.
Governor Brewer should be applauded for expanding Arizona’s tuition tax credit program earlier this year. But it’s a shame that she has dampened that school choice momentum. Let’s hope for the sake of Arizona’s children—and policymakers across the country keeping a keen eye on the reforms in the west—that Brewer returns to being the stalwart school choice proponent she was last year. If so, she could rightfully carry the mantle of “school choice governor,” and thousands of Arizona children would have an array of educational options before them as vast as the Grand Canyon itself.