Listen to parents, leaders; expand education choice and hold policies accountable

Editor’s note: This commentary from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush appeared last week on

Like all parents, Jeni and Neal Schoenbach want the best for their children, and each year they assess how their children are doing and what type of school would serve them best. Their kids attend both private school and homeschool, and much of the cost of their education has to be paid out of pocket.

But Arizona’s expanded Empowerment Scholarship Program would allow the Schoenbach children to receive a publicly funded education regardless of whether they’re enrolled at the local public school, private school, or home school. Education savings accounts are a modern form of public education funding — but better. They are customizable, flexible and can pay for costs ranging from school tuition to tutoring, online courses and therapy.

Making these choices doesn’t categorically mean there’s anything wrong with their traditional school — just as it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with a private or charter school when parents choose the traditional option. It’s all about what the Schoenbach family fully understands: finding the best fit for each child.

That’s why it’s irresponsible and misleading to have the director of an Arizona organization opposed to school choice describe the state’s newly improved scholarship as a “nail in the coffin” for public schools. Separately, an Arizona Democrat opposed to the program said it was “designed to kill public education.”

Nonsense. It’s a false dichotomy to believe that using public funds for a child to attend a school other than a traditional public school is anti-public education.

The very point of public education funding is to fund every child’s education. It’s not to fund only one type of school and mandate that all children must enroll in that school, regardless of whether it serves their needs. Here’s where the reasonable argument for public funding of school choice gets ugly for those who oppose it. During the pandemic, it became increasingly clear that the one-size-fits-all school model failed.

Traditional systems simply did not have what it takes to serve all families. And the horrendous impact on student learning is becoming more and more evident.

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