In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, families bear the twin burdens of inflation and indoctrination.
Parents continue to witness their children being taught divisive, radical ideologies that portray their country as intrinsically racist, place social justice above fundamental subjects such as reading and math, and even divide children by race. All this while academic proficiency drops off a cliff.
The soaring costs of living make alternatives such as private school or homeschooling increasingly unattainable for middle- and working-class families. But now, after a decade of battling the failing public education system, parents finally have a reason to hope.
Just two years ago, not a single state had universal school choice. Today, nine do.
To understand how groundbreaking this education renaissance is, just look at the state of Iowa.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, began 2023 by signing into law the Students First Act. This measure allows all Iowa families to receive funds in an education savings account, or ESA, to attend the school of their choice.
By the 2025-26 school year, every single child in Iowa will have access to an ESA to craft a learning option that works for them. It’s not just a discount—this year, the ESA amount is approximately $7,500 per child, which covers the entirety of private tuition for most elementary school students in the state.
Any leftover funds may be used to pay for other education-related services and products, such as tutors and textbooks. This marks a much-needed reprieve for parents who have watched their children struggle within an outdated system that lacks accountability and flexibility.
Iowa’s law is the nation’s third universal education choice program, following closely behind West Virginia and Arizona’s ESA expansions in 2022. Six other states have since adopted similar—and, in some cases, more expansive—policies this year: Utah, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina.
But Reynolds didn’t stop at school choice, either. She also signed into law a commonsense parental rights bill, SF 496, which prohibits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools in grades K-6 and forbids school libraries from stocking sexually explicit materials. The law also requires libraries to post their card catalogs online for the sake of transparency.
Critically, the Iowa law incorporated components of the Given Name Act, prohibiting schools from hiding information from parents about a child going by a different name or pronoun at school.
In a separate measure, the governor signed into law a bill that provides flexibility to traditional public schools, removing some regulations pertaining to teacher and librarian hiring and burdensome reporting requirements to the state.
For making these groundbreaking reforms, the Hawkeye State won The Heritage Foundation’s 2023 Education Freedom Award. Due to the new laws pertaining to transparency, teacher freedom, and school choice, Iowa jumped an impressive 13 spots on Heritage’s Education Freedom Report Card relative to the state’s 2022 standing—the largest improvement of any state in the country. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s news and commentary outlet.)
Florida retained its first-place position, and Arizona stood strong in second place, thanks in large part to the options for universal education savings accounts in both states.
Rounding out Heritage’s top five states for education freedom were Utah, Arkansas, and Indiana, all of which contain universal or near-universal school choice for families.
On the flip side, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Oregon rounded out the worst-performing five states in Heritage’s ranking.
More states, including Texas, are recognizing the pivotal role played by school choice in maximizing academic transparency and accountability. Reynolds is among those leaders who recognize that these reforms go hand-in-glove.
Transparency and parental involvement in a child’s education are vital, but without meaningful choices, they lack teeth. The ultimate accountability lies in the power of families to direct their child’s education if their current, government-assigned school fails to meet their needs.
Parents should be in the driver’s seat of their children’s education. Yet right now, too many families are confined to a system that doesn’t align with their values or the specific needs of their children.
Iowa is among those states that are breaking away from the monopoly enjoyed by the education establishment. And Iowa’s road map is now available for more states to follow.
This commentary originally was published by the Washington Examiner
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