Three years ago, the education conversation in Arizona was sinking into firm trench lines between the #REDforED movement and education reform advocates. When the coronavirus pandemic struck, it brought not just disruption but also a fresh look at the necessity of K-12 options. The gratitude that families — including mine — feel for school choice in Arizona has soared since the pandemic. Flexible learning truly gives families what we need to succeed through challenges.
Along with my most important job as a mother of two children in Tempe, I run the nonprofit Choose A School and an opportunity scholarship organization, Arizona School Choice Trust. In these roles, I have seen how demand for options has surged over the past two years. In the face of challenges ranging from underlying health conditions to unemployment, families have relied on options that meet their different needs — charter schools, private schools, neighborhood schools, online schools, and learning pods have offered different blends of health measures, socialization opportunities, and learning styles.
As a family, we’ve experienced and taken full advantage of the flexibility of Arizona’s school choices, both before and during the pandemic. While my husband attended public and private schools, I attended public school my entire life, and advocated for my school to offer advanced-level classes. Our children have attended Montessori and charter schools, and we homeschooled our youngest for preschool.
I can’t overstate the relief it has brought me as a parent to know that our state has so many options to help our kids reach their goals. Our oldest daughter has special learning needs, and faced a difficult path to getting the proper support she needed. Having multiple options allowed us to find her strong schools, educational therapy centers, and incredible teachers who have made all the difference. Her literature teachers encourage her skills as a writer, just like my son’s extracurriculars foster this would-be engineer’s love of invention and experimentation. Thanks to options — and knowing our options — we have been able to continue our children’s education while navigating Covid.
Whatever your feelings on masks or curriculum, the pandemic has given us a fresh realization of the value of flexible learning. That’s something we should never be complacent about. Last year, our governor and Legislature expanded multiple options for students, as well as transportation options to choice schools. These are promising developments, but we must keep working toward additional ways — from expanding eligibility for Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program to hosting community events about K-12 choices — to increase flexibility and awareness of options for all families.
There are few things as impactful as giving families flexibility in education, because the ability to change schools changes lives. I’ve seen it in my job, I’ve seen it at home, and I’ve seen more community members than ever have that epiphany during the pandemic.
This January 23-29, School Choice Week celebrates the impact that school selection has on tens of thousands of young Americans. It also provides a chance for parents to learn more about school choice locally, as many areas will hold school fairs that allow families to compare and select from among their options. As both a parent and an education advocate with 20 years of experience helping families find the best school for them, I encourage you to use School Choice Week to explore whether your child is in the learning environment most responsive to their needs. Arizona has school options — let’s use them and work together to make sure educational flexibility extends to all families.
Liz Dreckman serves as president and executive director of Arizona School Choice Trust.