Arizona is the closest model to a free market education setting in the United States. Today they have five private school choice programs serving nearly 70,000 students. That number is likely to increase in the coming years after the legislature expanded the state’s ESA to universal (but capped) eligibility over a several year phase-in period. They also have more than 15 percent of public school students attending a charter school.
Arizona has over 600 charter schools with more than 200 charters opening since 2010 alone. Yet at the same time 100 charter schools were also closed.30 Remarkably, most of these failing schools have not being closed by the state, but rather by parents. If parents believe their child is not getting a great educa- tion, they are voting with their feet. Those schools that closed lasted, on average, just four years and had an average of 62 students their final year. Parents in Arizona enjoy school choice, and they are able to make immediate decisions about their child’s future. If a school is not performing at a level they believe it should, they do not have to wait for it to improve. They can simply move on.
And the charter schools in Arizona, with light regulations, are now competing with the most highly regarded district schools in the country. The 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores show charter students in Arizona are nearly even with Massachusetts and ahead of New Hampshire, Minnesota, and New Jersey, which are states that spend among the most in the country per student.
At the same time, students in traditional district schools have experienced similar gains. In fact, Arizona led the nation in growth on the NAEP science test from 2009 to 2015. While Arizona has spent two decades providing families access to public and pri-vate school choice, all students have seen a benefit.
It turns out, when parents are given the opportunity to choose the best school for their children, children in both schools of choice and traditional district schools do better.
In a small way, Mississippi has seen the market effects of a school choice program. The 3-D School in Petal, MS is a specialty school that provides comprehensive dyslexia therapy services for students. Many of the families receive either the Dyslexia Scholarship or Special Needs ESA to help cover the cost of tu- ition. Because very few schools offer the services they provide, some families travel up to four hours per day roundtrip for their children to attend the school. The school has now opened a second location on the Gulf Coast due to this demand created by the school offering a high quality product and the scholarship programs that make the school more affordable for families.
This is an excerpt from School Choice: How to Unleash the Market in Education by Brett Kittredge. It was published in Promoting Prosperity in Mississippi.