Melon-scoop America

America’s founders (wisely) set up a federal system in part to defend liberty. Federalism allows Americans to select a state whose policies fit their policy preferences; it’s much more difficult to immigrate between countries for this purpose. If you desire to live in a state politically dominated by public sector unions producing low-quality services at unusually high costs to taxpayers and from whom employers are fleeing, there are some choices. If, however, you’d like to live in a state with better quality services produced at a more reasonable cost and to which employers are flocking, there are some options there, too. Moreover, some of those options will let you control your children’s education if you desire.

The states that passed robust choice policies in 2023 didn’t just pass them for their current residents. They also passed them for anyone willing to become a resident. In the aftermath of the 2023 regular legislative sessions, I created the “robusto K-12 choice map” to look like this:

I’ve assigned light green to states without formula-funded programs or that give an absurdly low amount to some families as punishment for paying too many taxes (looking at you, Buckeyes). Before you pack your U-Haul, you should check into the details of programs.

Families have already begun to figure this out. Here is a picture of new construction four-bedroom two two-bath homes for sale in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, where a rather vigorous new home construction boom is underway:

Here is the same picture for new-construction, four-bedroom, two-bath homes in Arlington, Virginia:

And so, what can you expect in return for your high level of debt from Arlington’s district schools? Unfortunately, academic gains below the national average:

The housing construction boom in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia might just be getting warmed up. Given the rise of remote working, less debt-slavery housing prices and greater options, it’s not hard to figure out the demand.

Another interesting spot to keep an eye on long-term will be Texarkana. The Arkansas-Texas state line bisects Texarkana, and currently, most homes for sale are on the Texas sign of the line. However, one side of this border (Arkansas) has empowered parents, and the other side (Texas) has not (yet).

The competition among states is no longer exclusively about attracting employers; increasingly it is also about attracting workers. States focused on creating the highest possible return on investment for young families might melon-scoop them from their hidebound neighbors.

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BY Matthew Ladner

Matthew Ladner is executive editor of NextSteps. He has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform, and his articles have appeared in Education Next; the Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice; and the British Journal of Political Science. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received a master's degree and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. He lives in Phoenix with his wife and three children.