A great awakening continues in the American education system, and 2022 saw some incredible progress toward educational choice for all. More and more, we are seeing parents, lawmakers and the courts realize that learning can happen anywhere—be it in a traditional brick-and-mortar building, outdoors through a microschool, at home online, or in learning settings we haven’t yet considered.
Though 2022 didn’t see the same quantity of new programs as 2021 (The Year of Educational Choice), it did see the most significant program expansion to date. More on that later.
Without a doubt, the EdChoice team enjoyed a lively discussion to land on our 2023 EdChoice Yearbook Superlatives, and what better time than National School Choice Week to highlight some of those big wins—and learned lessons—for the educational choice movement.
Which states unseated our past winners? Which results surprised us? Which state is most likely to succeed in creating a universal educational choice program in 2023? Read on to find out.
Most Choice-y States
Florida and Washington, D.C.
Certainly, some students thrive in their assigned district school, but we at EdChoice think it is crucial to track the total share of kids who are choosing outside of that system. We call it the EdChoice Share, and it shows us the percentage of all parents in a state who are choosing a charter school or virtual school, choosing a public school outside of their assigned district, learning at home, participating in a publicly funded school choice program, paying for private schools on their own or customizing their child’s education through an ESA.
Simply put, the EdChoice Share is the number that shows us where families are really taking advantage of robust systems of educational choice.
- When it comes to private educational choice share—meaning the state that has the largest share of students choosing a non-public school option through a program like education savings accounts, vouchers or tax-credit scholarships—Florida wins this year’s contest at 6.3 percent!
- When it comes to overall EdChoice share—meaning the state with the highest total percentage of students choosing educational settings other than their assigned district school including choice programs, charter schools, homeschooling and more—this year’s winner is also Florida with 47 percent!
- Though not a state, the District of Columbia would by far win this category at 59 percent. Notably, more D.C. students attend charter schools than attend traditional district schools.
To see how choice-y your state is by the numbers, check out our latest EdChoice share rankings.
Most Empowering Program
To determine the educational choice program that empowers families most, our team weighed three major criteria: purchasing power, funding stream stability and the ability of parents to use their funds flexibly.
Education savings accounts (ESAs) almost always win this category because of parents’ ability to use funds how they see fit for their child, within the rules of the program.
Arizona’s ESA program wins Most Empowering because, of all the ESAs, average funding is $11,332 per student, which is 108 percent of public school expenditures. The program serves all students, but it also allows higher funding amounts for students with special needs, which further empowers families to afford the right educational services for their children. Add to that, Arizona opponents of school choice’s referendum attempt to stop the ESA program failed, so they can never attack the program from that angle again.
Most Well-Rounded Policy
To determine our winner for this category, we always weigh three specific criteria: eligibility, guaranteed funding and flexibility.
Until last year, no state had achieved an operable program that meets the EdChoice ideal: a fully universal, customizable, educational choice program with a strong and guaranteed funding stream. We’re excited to report that 2022 marked the year we finally achieved Milton and Rose D. Friedman’s vision of universal school choice in one state, Arizona, and saw a near-universal choice program ruled constitutional in a second, West Virginia.
It should come as no surprise that Arizona’s ESA also takes the Most Well-Rounded Policy category—100 percent of students are eligible, funding is guaranteed to any eligible student, and families can use their funds flexibly, whether that’s at a private school or to tailor an educational plan for their child.
Honorable mentions go to West Virginia’s ESA program, for which 93 percent of students eligible. Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program, a voucher, does not allow the flexibility of these two ESA programs, but it does boast 77 percent funded eligibility with an impressive 8 percent take-up rate.
Our researchers determine the Most Popular program winner each year by calculating which program saw the largest percentage growth in participation.
New Hampshire’s tax-credit scholarship program grew by a whopping 63 percent last year—from 718 scholarships awarded to 1,171.
Tying for second place in this category: Indiana’s School Scholarship Tax Credit and South Dakota’s Partners in Education Tax Credit, both of which grew by 49 percent.
To decide which of America’s school choice programs was Most Improved last year, we turn again to the numbers, specifically which program expanded eligibility the most.
Arizona’s ESA collects another win by a landslide! Advocates in the state expanded eligibility from 23 percent to 100 percent—a 77 percentage point increase.
The next two highest eligibility increases happened in Louisiana, with a 4 percentage expansion of the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program, and Puerto Rico, with a 3 percent expansion of the Free School Selection Program.
Loss in Oklahoma
In our 2022 Superlatives, we voted Oklahoma Most Likely to Succeed in creating a strong, widely eligible ESA program. Our team had a lot of faith and legislation was introduced, but it failed to make it over the finish line. It was a setback to be sure, but perhaps we will see a stronger finish in 2023!
Another honorable mention for Biggest Setback was the legal loss for Kentucky’s tax-credit ESA program. In the words of our Vice President of Legal Affairs Leslie Hiner,
“The Kentucky program is inoperable as a direct result of Kentucky’s Supreme Court ruling that the program, as written, violates their state constitution. This ruling clearly restricts the ability of state legislators to appropriate funds raised by taxation to any educational purpose other than public schools. Although the Court sees its state constitution as a limitation on the power of the legislature to allow funds taken from the people to be used for any education purpose besides support of its government-operated public schools, the practical application of this ruling restricts the rights of the people of Kentucky to have equal access to both public and private educational resources. Under this ruling, rich parents, whose children attending public schools fail to thrive, will pay to send their children to private schools; low-income parents or those lacking cash resources due to healthcare demands, illness, small business obligations, high-interest debt demands or other financial limitations will be denied access to educational options their children desperately need.
“However, education provisions in state constitutions were written to advance, not restrict, the education of children. Provisions designed to limit the teaching and acceptance of religious beliefs that differed from Protestantism have since been declared a violation of a parent and child’s rights under the U.S. Constitution Bill of Rights, specifically the First Amendment guarantee of the right to freely exercise religious faith. Attorneys who believe that no provision in any state constitution should be interpreted to restrict the education of all grade-school aged children are reviewing the ruling to determine next steps.”
It’s a four-way tie!
What can we say? 2022 was an inspiring year for the educational choice movement. Here are four highlights our team couldn’t pass up for Most Inspiring:
- The West Virginia Supreme Court released its written opinion overturning the adverse decision of the lower court. Furthermore, the Hope Scholarship—which is nearly universal—was declared constitutional as the court clarified the program does not interfere with the legislature’s obligation to provide a thorough and efficient system of public schools. This is a huge win for West Virginia families, thousands of whom were waiting for the program to launch.
- We just can’t stop talking about how proud and inspired we are by Arizona’s universal ESA expansion! The coalition that made it possible has persevered through so many legal and legislative challenges over so many years, and finally they made true educational choice for all a reality in 2022. Arizona is a shining example for other states looking to be bold about improving educational freedom for all students.
- During polarizing political times, Pennsylvania saw bipartisan collaboration in the legislature to increase funding for K–12 education and expand the state’s tax-credit scholarship program. We hope to see much more of this in state legislatures across the country.
- Parent heroes inspire us to wake up every day to do the work of creating educational opportunity for every child. Gwen Samuel, Jenny Clark, Janelle Wood, Lakisha Young and Shalimar Encarnacion are a few amazing parent advocates for school choice of many fighting the good fight to ensure policymakers do right by the families of their communities.
Frivolous But Dangerous Lawsuit in Ohio
On January 5, 2022, the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding plus 74
public school districts filed litigation (Columbus City School District v. State of Ohio) against Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship Program, calling it an “existential threat.” The latest litigation alleges that this program depletes Ohio foundation funding that supports public schools and uses that money to subsidize private school tuitions at higher rates than public school per-pupil funding. The complaint also alleges the program leads to more segregated schools, fails to support a uniform system of common schools, and gives sectarian institutions control over public funds. The Franklin County Court of Common Pleas denied multiple motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment and has scheduled a trial in 2023.
What’s surprising about this lawsuit? Since 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that vouchers in Ohio are constitutional. The program serves more than 36,000 students with high retention. The average scholarship is worth only 42 percent of what the public schools would have expended in the public school system. Add to that, funds flow to parents first who then are free to choose the educational setting that’s best for their kids. We’re puzzled but still keeping a very close eye on this litigation in 2023.
Biggest Legal Challenge
Carson v. Makin
The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling in Carson v. Makin has had a huge effect on many states’ ability to enact constitutionally sound educational choice programs. The Court held that a provision of a state law prohibiting parents from using publicly funded tuition payments at religious schools that teach from a faith viewpoint is unconstitutional. Our VP of Legal Affairs Leslie Hiner said,
“This ruling affirms that parents should be able to choose a school that is compatible with their values or that honor and respect their values. By shutting out parents with certain values, that’s discrimination run rampant … Thankfully, Carson will finally put an end to a long, tortured history of anti-immigrant, anti-religious action that has hindered private school choice.”
Most Likely to Succeed in 2022
In our annual superlatives, we define “success” as the creation of a new educational choice program with strong policy design.
Iowa legislators are moving quickly on an ESA bill that would give parents $7,227 to spend on qualified expenses—including tuition, tutoring, curriculum, educational therapies, and more. Unspent money would carry over year-to-year, with any funds remaining when the student turns 20 or graduates high school returning to the general fund. Once fully phased in over three years, all Iowa students would be eligible to receive an ESA.
Iowa has strong legislative support for this program, and Gov. Kim Reynolds is also a shoo-in to sign an expansive choice program should it reach her desk. She is a longtime educational choice advocate and announced enacting an ESA is her top priority. She put forth proposals of her own the last two years that included an ESA as well as charter school and open enrollment expansions. Gov. Reynolds has also historically issued School Choice Week proclamations to recognize the importance of educational opportunity for all children.
Other states to watch for new educational choice programs:
To see how the EdChoice team voted last year, visit The 2022 EdChoice Yearbook Superlatives.