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Giving Students a Choice in Education

Lincoln Strategy Group

As a parent, you want a hand in most every facet of your children’s lives. When raising your little ones, you’ll be choosing the places they go, the things they do and everything down to the foods they eat. What you won’t choose, more than likely, is where your child gets his or her education.

On average, a student in middle school will spend about 1,016 hours each year inside of the classroom–more than most any other country on Earth. Those hours–roughly 33 per week according to the University of Michigan–make up a huge chunk of a developing child’s time. It makes sense that we want our kids to receive a quality education to act as the foundation for their future, so wouldn’t it make sense to add a little bit of choice into the equation?

A logical inconsistency currently surrounds school choice in America at the moment. As it stands for most parents around the country right now, they have little to no choice in where their children will attend school. Areas of the country that feature less than stellar public schools–poorer, inner city areas predominantly–mean children from the area are stuck attending schools that will not prepare them well for the future.

But the logical inconsistency in rejecting charter and private schools comes to light when you consider the relative imbalance that exists right now. Wealthier parents are able to afford to send their children to an expensive private school to avoid the issue of substandard public schools. Parents who can’t afford the current price of these options, however, are left optionless. At its core, this practice is purely prejudicial classism, taking the choice from lower socio-economic class individuals while those in the upper class are afforded more options.

Public schooling options are decided for them based on location, presenting the perfect opportunity for a vicious cycle to begin. Students from worse economic backgrounds don’t have the same opportunities afforded to them, pushing them into the public school system that won’t prepare them for post-graduate life. The facilities are poor, the funding is underwhelming, and the environments are sometimes unsafe and unfit for proper education. These factors culminate in what’s called the school to prison pipeline.

In the late 90’s, programs began popping up around the country that helped ease the issue of a lack of school choice. The first, a program and corresponding legislation helped along its way by Lincoln Strategy Group’s own Managing Director Nathan Sproul, was the Arizona Original Individual Income Tax Credit Scholarship Program. While it’s a bit of a mouthful in name, the program awarded over 30,000 scholarships in 2014-2015 alone, helping bring choice to children in Arizona.

The legislation and program have faced scrutiny in the past, holding up against three court challenges since its inception. In each instance, school choice came out victorious, striking a blow against those who wished to reduce the options allocated to those in the middle and lower class.

The creation of the Arizona Original Individual Income Tax Credit Scholarship Program has worked in tandem with the Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship Program in Arizona to help increase school choice options in the state.

The way they work is both straightforward and immensely beneficial for donors. The money that is sent to programs like the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization (ACSTO) or Tuition Organization for Private Schools (TOPS) is then credited, dollar-for-dollar, towards any money you may owe come tax season. Taxpayers may select private, charter, or public schools to be the recipient of their tax credits.

The video below from ACSTO explains the process in more detail.

Other states have begun to take notice of the outcomes of these programs since Arizona’s pilot program in the 90s. States like Florida have adopted very similar programs, seeing coinciding degrees of success. With the expansion, growth and success of the programs across the nation, the current state of the GOP school choice platform is also shifting, capped off by Betsy DeVos’s position as Secretary of Education under Donald Trump.

The payoff in Arizona has been palpable. US News & World Report’s 2017 list of the best high schools in the country ranked Arizona charter schools in each of the first three spots and five of the top seven.

More recently, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill that passed through the Legislature to expand the eligibility of the program already in place, allowing for any of the state’s residents to use taxpayer funds that would normally go towards public schools instead to the private school of their choice. The move by Ducey grew the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program, making it one of the largest in the country.

While the move was met with anger by Democrats due to a perceived increase in taxes and school spending, the revised version of the plan actually saves the state just over $3 million over the next 5 years in addition to expanding the opportunity of schoolchildren around the state.

While it may raise some eyebrows when you consider just how long your children spend in school, what’s more is the fact that those figures are climbing quickly. It’s now becoming more important than ever to offer choices to the next generation of employees, business people and leaders.

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