MESA, Ariz. – Florida ranked as a winner in a national report card that measures how well states provide access to school choice and parental input in children’s education.
Parents not only have the right to choose where their children learn, but also what they learn, according to the 2022 Education Freedom Report Card from The Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy organization.
On October 25, the Heritage Foundation hosted a celebration and panel discussion on the report’s findings at the Arizona Biltmore Ballroom in Mesa.
The report card included a list of state education rankings in four key study areas: educational choice, regulatory freedom, transparency and return on investment in education spending.
“The top state in our 2022 educational freedom survey is Florida,” The Heritage Foundation said.
“Florida does exceptionally well in allowing parents to choose between private, charter and district schools, is home to a strong ESA program, and ranks third overall in educational choice.”
Florida ranked first for academic transparency and second for regulatory freedom, “making it one of the freest states for teachers and students to learn largely without red tape,” the think tank said.
Arizona’s No. 1 school choice
Arizona ranked first in school choice following the recent passage and implementation of expanded universal school choice legislation signed into law by Governor Doug Ducey.
“This is really a common sense thing on the kitchen table. That’s something parents want,” said Ducey, the guest speaker.
According to The Heritage Foundation, Arizona ranked first in educational choice “even without universal ESA provision.”
“For parents looking for the wildest educational options, Arizona is the place to be.”
The Universal School Choice Program provides up to $7,000 in scholarships to K-12 students in Arizona. The legislation prevailed despite attempts by opponents to derail the program, which takes effect in September.
Panel chair Jenny Clark, founder and executive director of Love Your School in Arizona, said signing the petition to stop ESA expansion was a “real wake-up call” for me.
“When parents get an empowerment scholarship, they’re so damn happy they choose to stay” in the school’s programs.
But if people “really care about supporting education and freedom,” said Lindsey Burke, director of The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, “we have to care about the things that are associated with private school programs in particular.”
School choice includes the ability of private schools to “operate as they see fit,” Burke said.
Burke said educational freedom extends not only to parents and children, but also to teachers and whether schools offer alternative certification options and reciprocity between districts.
She noted that traditional college curricula are often “captive to the left” and “some of the most left-leaning institutions in America.”
Burke said the report card also calculated the number of districts with chief diversity officers and how that is replicated in K-12 programs.
“We see it over and over again in districts across the country,” Burke said.
The report card also measured the share of districts with a CEO on staff and joint evaluation programs.
While Arizona ranks fifth in regulatory freedom with 10 percent of teachers holding alternative certification, there is full reciprocity. And “that’s good,” Burke said.
Arizona school districts employ 20 percent of their chief diversity officers, and Arizona is “certainly not the worst of the states” in that regard.
When it comes to regulatory freedom, Mississippi ranked first on the report card.
“While educational choice is critical to the future of educational freedom in this country—and some would argue that it is the reform that is the catalyst for all other necessary reforms in K-12 education today—it is one of many factors we evaluate in this report card . ” said The Heritage Foundation.
Jonathan Butcher, the Will Skillman Fellow in Education at The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, said that what kids learn in the classroom is “the kind of thing parents want to know first,” referring to Florida’s number one ranking in academic transparency “.
“That’s essentially why we felt transparency was so important to include in our report card,” Butcher said.
Butcher was referring to an incident in a Texas school district that compared police officers to members of the Ku Klux Klan.
The governor has taken steps to address the matter, with school boards largely ignoring parents’ concerns.
“It shouldn’t take long for the governor to call for something to be done in the school, to do something about what’s going on in the curriculum,” Butcher said.
CRT In The Classroom
The report card also addressed the spread of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and whether students were coerced or coerced into affirming or believing any idea that violated the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
Butcher said CRT is not just an academic discipline, “it’s an action plan” that uses forced speech in education.
In the last category—return on investment in per-pupil spending—Idaho ranked first.
“How taxpayer dollars are spent is an integral part of choice and empowerment,” said The Heritage Foundation. “Therefore, our report card examines the return on taxpayer investment in K-12 education in states.”
“Idaho took first place in this category and provided a high [return on investment] for taxpayer expenditures for K-12 education.”