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Arizona wins silver for educational freedom

school choice, education, Education Freedom Report Card, parents, Critical Race Theory, Florida, Ducey, Heritage Foundation, Goldwater Institute, DeSantis, Florida

Arizona scored a silver medal recently, landing the No. 2 spot out of all 50 states on the Heritage Foundation’s inaugural Education Freedom Report Card. The report measured four categories: school choice, education transparency, return on investment for education spending and regulatory freedom.

Arizona scored an impressive silver medal this past week, landing the No. 2 spot out of all 50 states on the Heritage Foundation’s inaugural Education Freedom Report Card. The report measured four categories: school choice, education transparency, return on investment for education spending and regulatory freedom.

Thanks to the policies championed by parents and policy advocates, including the Goldwater Institute, and the work of state lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey, Arizona dominated all but one state in the rankings – Florida, which outshined Arizona in its commitment to academic transparency.

After passing the nation’s most expansive school choice legislation in history earlier this year, Arizona unsurprisingly won the top spot for “school choice.” But as Heritage notes, the state’s failure to pass protections against race-based, “Critical Race Theory”-style instruction in K-12 schools and its failure by a single vote to secure academic transparency for parents cost it in the rankings.

school choice, Heritage Foundation, Ducey, Florida, K-12, private schools, public schools

Matt Beienburg

“In 2022, Arizona lawmakers considered proposals to improve academic transparency and reject critical race theory, but lawmakers did not adopt proposals that would have advanced these policies,” Heritage said.

The report says Arizona lawmakers succeeded in strengthening curricular transparency of materials dealing with sex education. But unified opposition from left-wing lawmakers — and the defection of a single self-described conservative member in the House — left full academic transparency one vote shy of becoming reality.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis accepted the award for his state’s #1 ranking on the report card, as the Sunshine State scored the top spot overall and in the transparency category. Meanwhile in Wisconsin, the left-wing governor vetoed academic transparency legislation in 2021. DeSantis signed into law earlier this year new curriculum transparency legislation that passed by nearly 2-1 margins in both chambers of the Florida Legislature. That bill requires that each school district “publish on its website, in a searchable format prescribed by the department, a list of all instructional materials,” so parents and the public can see what’s included in classroom learning. It’s little surprise that Florida scored No. 1 in transparency, while Wisconsin languished at 49.

These ratings are merely a snapshot in time, but states like Wisconsin and Arizona are poised for significant shakeups in their legislative and gubernatorial leadership this November. The new class of Arizona lawmakers must pick up the baton of academic transparency in 2023 and deliver it to the new governor for her signature.

National and state polling have shown nearly three-quarters of voters support academic transparency. Similar shares of voters also support provisions against race-based educational practices — from racial discrimination in hiring and admissions to ideological litmus tests schools use to screen out applicants insufficiently committed to left-wing interpretations of “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Enacting these laws will not only help vault Arizona to the top of the Heritage Education Freedom rankings next year but will help fulfill the call to action embedded in those rankings: aligning our education systems with parents and students’ needs and priorities.

Arizona already scored one historic victory with the passage of universal education savings accounts, but union activists are working to delay or undo that achievement. Arizona must not rest on its laurels. Lawmakers must do everything in their power next year to trade in that silver medal for a gold.

Matt Beienburg is director of education policy at the Goldwater Institute. He also serves as director of the institute’s Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy. 

 

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