July 10, 2023

How School Choice Won Big This Year

By: Frances Floresca

There is no surprise why school choice legislation has won big this year—families are tired of the status quo in education and are seeking alternatives for their children. 

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted educators and families to recognize the need for questioning the existing norms and practices in learning. They also were concerned about students falling behind in their learning when many state governments forced schools to go remote.

While the school choice movement has been around for several decades, it experienced a surge in popularity during the pandemic.

Many states have passed several types of school choice legislation this year, whether it has been tax-credit scholarships, education savings accounts, better access to charter schools, or easing barriers for microschools and learning pods. 

It started with Iowa, Utah, Arkansas, and Florida passing universal school choice with education savings accounts earlier this year, respectively. Several states later passed their programs. They join West Virginia and Arizona in offering school choice to virtually all families, regardless of income. Other states expanded or created new programs, including Indiana, Nebraska, and more recently New Hampshire

Several states have also received attention with their school choice programs. 

North Carolina is one of these states, when Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency on public education. 

After Choose Your School, Choose Your Future passed in the state legislature, Gov. Cooper announced his emergency order and called the legislation “extreme” and that it would “cripple the state’s public school system.” He has been holding events around the state about the legislation. While Gov. Cooper is expected to veto the legislation, the Republican legislature is expected to override it. 

The other state is Pennsylvania, where the Democratic governor, Josh Shapiro, supports the Lifeline Scholarship Program. This shows school choice is a bipartisan issue. 

“Let me just say, in general, I believe every child of God deserves a shot here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and one of the best ways we can guarantee their success is making sure every child has a quality education,” he said. 

He also said on the campaign trail he believes “school choice and fully funded public education can coexist in Pennsylvania.” 

Gov. Shapiro is quite the opposite of Gov. Cooper when it comes to school choice. 

We are also hearing of many new opportunities for schools in rural communities, the Heritage Foundation finds. While school choice critics argue rural communities do not have the population to support and sustain multiple schools, many of them are challenging that notion. 

The Heritage study also shows around seven in 10 rural families are within 10 miles of a private elementary school, and eight in 10 students who attend charter schools in states fostering the creation of these schools in rural areas, are in the same zip code as the school. 

Parents, former teachers, and other individuals around the country have also been building up innovative microschools and learning pods, catering to a small group of students. There are many different purposes of these schools, but they primarily tend to focus on personalized and project-based learning. 

Christensen Institute, an organization dedicated to disruptive innovation even posed the question, “Is 2023 the year of the microschool?” I also have had the opportunity to meet with microschools last year and this year, and many of these schools only began within recent years. 

School choice won big this year, and the momentum will continue to grow for the years to come.