Many years ago, I worked for an Arizona-based school choice organization that is no more (not to worry; its work is being done, rather more effectively, by other organizations). Among the benefits of that job was becoming very familiar with the impressive education options available in our state. In fact, Arizona has among the widest menu of schools, non-schools and creative approaches for absorbing information in the country. Even homeschooling, which is barely tolerated in some states, is relatively painless and free of red tape. (Although charter schools and traditional public schools are increasingly bogged down in regulation here, as they are everywhere). But finding out about some of these options can be challenging, since there's no source for one-stop shopping. Enter the Goldwater Institute, which has published A Parent's Guide to School Choice to close the information gap.
The guide breaks Arizona education options out into six categories:
- Open Enrollment: The ability to enroll in any public school in the state, regardless of district boundaries.
- Private School Scholarships: Businesses and individuals can make tax-deductible domations to funds that pay private school tuition to those who meet the fund's criteria.
- Empowerment Scholarship Accounts: Part of the state's per-pupil education funding is available to be used for tuition, tutoring and other education expenses.
- Homeschool: Technically, you're supposed to file a notarized affidavit with the local school district, just to let them know you're homeschooling.
- Online or "Virtual" Schools: Public or private, offering a full education or in as a complement to classroom work or homeschooling.
- Charter Schools: Privately managed public schools offering a wide variety of curricula and approaches.
The Goldwater Institute is calling for the state to start publishing its own school choice catalog:
A school choice catalog could be produced by the state at no additional cost to the general fund. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, Arizona receives almost $350 million every year to help children succeed through services like tutoring and increasing parent engagement (the funding source is known as Title I). The department's production of an annually mailed school choice catalog would qualify for this funding as an effort to increase parent engagement in children's education.
Frankly, though, I think a federally funded, state government-published, catalog will end up as a non-stop pissing contest over the proper presentation of each option and whether a certain phrasing disparages somebody's favorite choice … And, to be honest, Arizona depends too much on federal funding already.
I think the school choice catalog is a great idea, and I'd rather see it remain in private hands — either with Goldwater or another private group that can use voluntarily raised funds to publish as it sees fit.
I'd also like to see similar catalogs published everywhere, so that families can more easily see what options are available to them, and what options are not. Catalogs published in states with minimal choice could even offer side-by-side comparisons to what's available elsewhere, so that people would know what they're missing.
That's probably not a feature that tax-funded catalogs are likely to offer anytime soon.