To celebrate National School Choice Week, the Goldwater Institute is highlighting five key areas of education reform. Up first is Education Savings Accounts. For more information about the Institute's groundbreaking work in this area, visit our Education Reform page.
We like to joke around the office that the best way to determine if an education reform is worth pursuing is whether the special interests that defend the status quo challenge it in court. So we knew for certain we were onto something with the idea of Education Savings Accounts when they were hit with a double whammy: a lawsuit against them filed not only by the teachers' union but by the Arizona School Boards Association. (Your tax dollars at work!)
Three years ago, the Arizona Supreme Court struck down school vouchers under Article 9, section 10 of the state constitution, which forbids the "appropriation of public money made in aid of any... private or sectarian school..." The Court reasoned that because all of the voucher funds necessarily would be used in private schools, they constituted impermissible "aid."
Education savings accounts (ESAs), on the other hand, can be used for a variety of educational purposes, from private school tuition to distance learning, home schooling, tutoring, educational software, community college classes, or college tuition. It's tough to consider the accounts an appropriation in "aid" of private schools when none of the money is earmarked for them.
The legal challenge, now in its opening round in Maricopa County Superior Court, is vitally important to the future of systemic education reform. If we were designing a K-12 education system from scratch — with no preconceived notions yet mindful of the technology that enables us to deliver high-quality, personalized instruction to every child — surely it would not look like the bricks-and-mortar, one-size-fits all system to which most American children are consigned.
ESAs allow families to tailor educational services to their children's individual needs. In 2011, the Legislature enacted ESAs for children with special needs. This year, we hope ESAs will be made available to children in poor-performing public schools. Just as the Goldwater Institute gave life to the idea of ESAs, so are we tenaciously defending them in court.
Clint Bolick is director of the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.
Learn More:Arizona Judicial Branch: Cain v. Horne (PDF)
Goldwater Institute: Niehaus v. Huppenthal