There’s no better time to reflect on recent school choice happenings and look forward to a new year than during National School Choice Week.
As we do every year, the EdChoice team got together to vote on yearbook superlative categories, such as Most Inspiring, Biggest Setback and our newest recognition, Most Likely to Expand, in 2020.
To see how the EdChoice team voted last year, listen to Our 2019 EdChoice Yearbook Superlatives.
Jen Wagner: Hello, and welcome to the 2020 edition of our EdChoice Superlatives. I’m Jen Wagner, our VP of communications, and I’m joined today by three far smarter people: Drew Catt, our director of state research and special projects; our President and CEO Robert Enlow; and our VP of Legal Affairs Leslie Hiner. Thank you for joining us.
Leslie Hiner: Thanks Jen.
Robert Enlow: Thanks.
Drew Catt: Wonderful to be here.
Jen Wagner: This podcast is based on our annual list, based on our ABCs of School Choice, of the best, the worst, the most improved, basically whatever you’d find in a high school yearbook of private school choice programs. Some of these programs, some of these superlatives, are based on the data and some of them are just based on how we feel. But without further ado, I’m going to jump right in. So, our top billing this year, Most Empowering Program, goes to the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Accounts for the third year in a row. Drew, can you talk about why Arizona is so amazing?
Drew Catt: Yeah. Thanks, Jen. I would say it’s because of the three main criteria that we looked at, which included the purchasing power, the stability of the funding stream, and the ability of parents to use their funds flexibly. Now, I would say that if we’re just looking at a ladder, it’s always going to be an ESA program. And of all of the ESA programs, Arizona’s by far has the most purchasing power and there is a lot of stability with the funding stream. Even though there was some issues in the last year with an expansion that did and did not happen, the funding stream was never an issue for this program. So that’s a very good thing. And even just looking at the average ESA amount, it’s over $12,000, and a lot of that is due to the students that participate in the program. There are some very high-needs students that receive a higher funding amount, but even compared to the other ESA programs that also cater to students with special needs, it is by far the highest.
Jen Wagner: All right. Thanks, Drew. And coming in, once again, Arizona is in our Most Well-Rounded Policy for their ESA program. Robert, can you talk a little bit about not just the ESA program and why they won for well-rounded, but kind of Arizona as a school choice powerhouse. They really have emerged on the scene as a state to follow.
Robert Enlow: Yeah, Arizona is … thinking about the high school yearbook. I love that analogy, right? So, this is like the most well-rounded person in school. This is the most well-rounded policy, and I think Arizona is that because it does a couple things really, really well. It does guarantee its funding stream, and it guarantees it at a high level. And that’s really important for families who need to make choice. It also has a significant high number of eligible families. So, it is one of the states with the largest percentage of eligible families in the country. And that is one of the reasons why it beats out other states.
Now, tax-credit programs often have universal eligibility like the one in Georgia and others. But the problem is they’re limited by the amount of the cap of the tax credit program, which is sometimes small, sometimes big, but never as broad as it is in Arizona. One of the things we care a lot about here at EdChoice is the idea that if you have an auction, you have a dollar. So, there’s nothing holding you back. We call that funded eligibility. And Arizona often tops the list of that one. A second close one is Indiana. Again, if you have a choice and you have a family, you have a dollar. So, Arizona is our most well-rounded popular person in the States, according to our yearbook. And it wins a lot because of its flexibility and its guaranteed funding.
Drew Catt: It’s not the most popular, though. That one goes to a different program and we have very, very clear and defined ways to measure most popular. So, this year for Most Popular comes Arkansas’s Succeed Scholarship Program. And that’s because we define most popular not by the total participation, but rather the biggest percentage growth in participation. And because of that, the most popular programs have tended to be some of the smaller programs because they have the largest percentage growth from last year to this year. So, Arkansas’s Succeed Scholarship Program, which is a voucher program for students with special needs and students in foster care, although that eligibility population has a cap to it. So, it grew by 64% adding 167 students during the fall semester. The other notable programs, that again they were on the smaller side compared to some of the older programs and if we were talking about the largest program, we would definitely be talking about some of the oldest programs.
But Tennessee’s IEA program, or individualized education account program, grew by 57%. A Wisconsin special needs scholarship program is the only one here that had more than a thousand students, and it eclipsed that for the first time this school year. And also South Dakota’s tax credit scholarship program, or the Partners in Education Tax Credit Program grew by 46% from ’18-’19 to ’19.
Robert Enlow: So, I’m always reminded when you talk about most popular of one of my favorite musicals, Wicked, and the song, “Popular.” Except in this case it’s popular only among a small number of people. And I appreciate the wonderful fact that it’s growing percentage wise and that’s amazing. And that’s why it is our most popular. We need to keep a focus on that.
We do need to give shoutouts to other states like Florida where you see significant growth but their numbers are… I think they had like a 5,000 increase in their ESA program in the year, but that percentage wasn’t high. So, it’s interesting when we talk about most popular, we are talking about the greatest percentage growth. There are states that have significant high numbers and that’s great and we should be praising both. But in our criteria, Arkansas is the most popular.
Drew Catt: And also you have to have a baseline. Otherwise, we would be talking about a program that we’ll be talking about later and that’s Florida’s newest program. But I don’t want to spoil it. So, Jen, what are we talking about next?
Jen Wagner: All right, we’ll get to you eventually, Leslie. I promise. Although you’re a bearer of bad news in just a minute.
Leslie Hiner: Yeah, sorry.
Jen Wagner: That’s OK. We’re going to have a good legal year this year. So, next step is our Most Improved. That is the program with the biggest student eligibility expansion in the past year. And Drew, I’m going to kick it to you one more time to talk about Virginia.
Drew Catt: Yeah. Thanks, Jen. So, again, we’re looking at a comparison from the number that we had last year to the number that we had this year. And the families eligible for Virginia’s tax-credit scholarship program, or formerly known as the Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credit Program, grew by 6% according to our calculations. Part of that was because the program recently allowed pre-K students to be eligible for scholarships. I would say another program that saw expansion would be Rhode Island’s tax-credit scholarship program, which increased the eligibility percentage by 3%.
Jen Wagner: All right, well we’re going to get over to some less great news. Our next category is Biggest Setback. And a few years ago, this was also our biggest accomplishment. Goes without saying that from EdChoice’s standpoint, we advocate for education savings account, or ESA programs, above other types of school choice, especially because they give parents flexibility and the ability to not just pay for private-school tuition, but other services like tutoring, access to other K-12 resources. And a few years ago we passed this amazing program, Leslie, that you were a huge part of in Nevada. And why don’t you tell us a little bit about what happened last year?
Leslie Hiner: So, Nevada is the true heartbreak story. Nevada’s ESA is, I’d say without question, the biggest, best education savings account program in the country. They are the best. However, Nevada made the choice to take a giant leap backwards and now tried to repeal this program. But they didn’t really do it as a straight up, what I would call an “honest repeal” that there was a thunderous group of people that was like, “Repeal, repeal!” That didn’t happen. In fact, there’s still thousands and thousands of parents and kids who were waiting for them to fund this program so they could participate, but instead they tossed the repeal of the program into another bill dealing with the minimum business tax. Most of the rest of the country knows it as a gross receipts tax on a business. They just tossed it in there.
However, under that bill that they passed, the gross receipts tax, it violated their state constitution. They have that provision in their state constitution where if you’re going to raise money, if you’re going to essentially do anything with the money, taxpayer dollars in Nevada, you have to have a two-thirds vote to pass the bill. Well, they didn’t have that. They barely at a majority vote. Passed the bill. And that’s against their constitution. So, that’s the good news.
The bad news is that they slipped this provision in, and it was just a terrible backwards move. Good news is that I would expect their supreme court to toss this thing out and say, “This bill is no good, you can’t violate the will of the people in this way.” So, we’re hoping. The litigation is proceeding on that. So, even though the program has been repealed, the thing that repealed it is in the courts right now. And I expect that to be overturned.
Jen Wagner: Well, hope springs eternal. And it’s also worth noting that the Nevada program was particularly great because it was universal. And that is something that we aspire for here is that regardless of how much money you make or whether or not your child has special needs that you should be able to access school choice. So, Leslie, we will keep an eye on Nevada as we head into 2020.
So, our next category is the Most Inspiring and it’s worth noting that as we debated these, the Illinois program and keeping that tax-credit scholarship in place was our winner this year. But we also had a robust debate about, and it’s worth noting on a personal note, Virginia Walden Ford was also our most inspiring. She’s one of our board members. She had a great movie based on her life story of becoming a school choice advocate come out. So, that is not in our blog post, but I thought it was worth mentioning here before we delve into why the Illinois fight over their tax-credit scholarship and the eventual results was our actual winner for Most Inspiring. So, Robert, you want to talk about that?
Robert Enlow: I want to quickly follow up with you. Virginia Walden Ford is probably one of the most inspiring people in this movement ever. For those of you who don’t know, Virginia was in the second class in Little Rock, Little Rock High School, and was one of the first wave after Little Rock Nine to integrate schools in Arkansas in Little Rock. And she has come out of that experience over time and realized that all families need to have the same options of all schools. And I think like us, she doesn’t care where that school is public school, a private school, a charter school, at home, online, so long as a child can get in where they fit in. And I think that’s what makes her so inspiring over the years. She’s been fighting for educational liberty for a long time, and she is certainly inspiring. And I think she’s probably one of the inspirations for our Illinois program, which is an inspiring program.
So, they passed this program a couple of years ago when Governor Rauner was there. And everyone thought that Governor Pritzker was going to repeal it because he actually said he was. He campaigned, “I’m going to get rid of this.” And, and the fact is not only did the families do this. What’s coming out is there were people in the trade unions who think this is a great idea because guess who gets to benefit from having schools? The folks who have a hard time affording it, and a lot of those folks belong to unions. And so it’s super interesting how you’re seeing what’s happening in Illinois where you’re seeing low- and middle-income families come out of the woodwork to say, “We want more of this, we want to have this,” as well as some of the union leadership saying, “It’s time for us to also have choice.” So, it really is an inspiring effort that is there, and a shout out goes to Miles Mendoza and Empower Illinois for all their work.
Jen Wagner: Yeah. It really truly was… It was a bipartisan effort, and it’s actually a proof point to that once you give people choice, it is very difficult to take it away from them. That was one of the issues going back to Nevada very, very quickly, is that they didn’t ever have an operational program. So, those families never got to experience that ESA. But the minute you empower someone to go out and make that choice, it makes a huge, huge difference when it comes time to potentially repeal a rollback of that program.
Robert Enlow: And what is the song in Hamilton, not going to give up my—
Jen Wagner: “I’m not throwing away my shot.”
Robert Enlow: I’m not going to throw away my shot.
Jen Wagner: We love Hamilton around here, y’all.
Leslie Hiner: And Jen, we should mention too that to your point, big kudos to the parents in Nevada because those parents, those thousands of parents who were so instrumental in supporting legislators as they passed this program initially. They’re still around. They’re still active. They’re still talking to their legislators. They’re still talking to other parents. And in the meantime, while they’re waiting for the legislature to put their heads on straight and get this done for them, they’re helping each other. They realized early on what kind of value this would be for their families. And to your point, they know it, they want it. And they’re not going to give up the fight in Nevada.
Jen Wagner: Yep. Parents are the backbone. Parents are the backbone of this movement. All right, so Drew alluded to this earlier. We’ve got to give a shout out to Florida, and they are in fact our Best New Program this year. The Florida Family Empowerment Scholarship program. So, Drew, tell us why they got those accolades.
Drew Catt: Part of it was because it’s a new program that regardless of how it was set up, it’s a new program that eclipsed 9,000 students in its first semester. That is incredible. Yeah. But again, because there was zero then not most popular cause you can’t go … starting with zero. And I think one of the reasons they were able to get so many students in is because the program was really created to kind of help alleviate the wait list of Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, which gives out more than a 100,000 scholarships a year. So this really expanded the options for the low- and middle-income families that were not able to get into the tax-credit scholarship program. And through this voucher program so far it’s seen really, really high enrollment and really excited to see where the program goes from here.
Jen Wagner: That’s fantastic. Oh, go ahead.
Robert Enlow: Sorry to interrupt. But I’m excited cause they haven’t sued it yet.
Jen Wagner: Are you trying to curse the program? Come on.
Robert Enlow: No, I want to make a point about this. So, maybe, I don’t think it’s true, but maybe the folks who oppose school choice on the legal side are beginning to realize there’s a lot of parents who want it. And there are a lot of people out there who desire to have it.
Jen Wagner: Especially in Florida.
Robert Enlow: Especially in Florida.
Leslie Hiner: Oh, they know that part. But our opponents are not about the parents. They’re not about the kids. They’re about the power and control. So, yeah, that litigation is coming. Sorry to break your heart about that.
Jen Wagner: That’s true.
Drew Catt: How many Florida programs haven’t had litigation?
Leslie Hiner: They’ve all been sued.
Jen Wagner: I was going to say every single one of them has been litigated.
Leslie Hiner: So, it’s just timing. That’s all.
Jen Wagner: “It’s only a matter of time.”
Robert Enlow: I’ve always found it interesting in Florida in particular. So, the Bush v. Homes lawsuit was basically saying that you can’t provide a non-uniform education, right? No one ever sues public school districts for providing non-uniform education. Look, we don’t care what choices families make as long as they make choices. So, clearly you can’t be making the argument that the worst school in Broward County is uniformly as good as the best school in Naples or even the best school in Broward County. So, this is sort of an interesting sort of fake conversation in some phase on the legal side. If we actually started broadening our idea of what real educational transformation is, it’s not about public versus private, it’s actually about what families need, I think we’ve actually been looking at it differently and saying, “Well, hold on. Why aren’t these schools who are traditional schools that are performing well, they’re not performing uniformly as the bad schools, whether they be public, private, or charter.” Let’s have that conversation.
Jen Wagner: But that is the truly unique thing about Florida is because they have so much choice, you do have counties with major metropolitan cities in them that have 60, 70, 80% of kids, not necessarily in private school choice, but in schools of choice, which was Milton Friedman’s vision. You get enough choice in there, you get enough of a market, then people will finally find what works for them.
Robert Enlow: Shout out to Miami Dade superintendent who’s rocking the world on this kind of stuff.
Drew Catt: The number of magnet schools that are being set up in that district is astounding.
Jen Wagner: Yep. All right, so we touched on litigation in Florida, but I feel like this next category is… Leslie, we’ve done a podcast on this and this is our Biggest Legal Challenge. I think it should be renamed “Biggest Legal Opportunity,” but I didn’t get a vote. So, the Espinosa case, obviously this month is going to be in the news, in the court. Talk about why that is our biggest legal challenge/opportunity this year.
Leslie Hiner: Well, this is a case that rises to the level of the Zelman case, which was the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that vouchers in Cleveland were constitutional. It rises to the same level of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Wynn case out of Arizona ruling that tax credit scholarship programs, they’re good to go. And now we have Espinoza, and it’s that big. It’s the kind of case where you see it coming, and everyone is collectively holding their breath until it’s over, literally. And we just talked a lot about school choice and different types of choice, and when Robert was just now talking about the true transformation of education, it really boils down to what’s the benefit that is conferred to a child in any kind of education program, whether public education or any kind of schools? And this is the key issue in Espinoza.
So, in Espinoza, they passed a tax-credit scholarship program and all schools could participate. It’s all good. However, the Montana Department of Revenue, who was administering the program, had to adopt some rules. And they decided that, well, these religious schools that they couldn’t really participate because that would be against the Montana Constitution. Now, set aside the fact that the Department of Revenue does not have any kind of authority to determine what is or is not constitutional. And the rule excluding religious schools was contrary to the statute that was passed by the legislature. So, that wasn’t so great, but they stuck with it. And the state stuck with their department of revenue. So, as a result, parents who wanted to send their kids to some faith-based schools that were quite good in their communities couldn’t do it. So, the Institute for Justice then represented these parents and brought suit.
So, this was how it happened. And they’re arguing that the benefit of the program is the education that’s received by that child, whether it’s in a religious setting, whether they pray in the morning or they don’t pray in the morning, the benefit is the same that the taxpayers are paying for. And that’s a good education. That’s the key. So, we won at the trial court, then lost at the Montana Supreme Court. The Montana Supreme Court did something a little gutsy and said that the U.S. Constitution just did not apply to their tax-credit scholarship program in Montana. Obviously, there are many of us who disagree with that in a really big way, and we’ll see what the U.S. Supreme Court has to say about that. But what that means is that those other big cases, the Zelman cases, vouchers are constitutional. The Wynn case, tax-credit scholarship programs are constitutional. They just didn’t even talk about it. They literally in one sentence said, “Nope, it doesn’t apply here,” and that was it.
Well, so now the Supreme Court is having that conversation. But here’s where this case is a little different from the Zelman case. In the Zelman case, the question was, is it constitutional for a parent to send the child under a voucher program to a religious school? And the U.S. Supreme Court said, “Of course it is. The money’s going directly to the parent, and then the parent makes the of where to send their child to school. It could be religious or not. State doesn’t make that decision. We’re all good.” But in the Montana case, the question is, is it constitutional for the state to specifically exclude those schools, for the state to say, “Yeah, we like the nonreligious schools, but we don’t really like the religious schools and they’re too much of a problem, so we’re not going to include them.” Now, you may detect for my tone of voice, I think this is grossly unconstitutional what they’ve done, but we’ll see.
Now, there’s a bigger question and this is what makes it really a big case and the biggest legal challenge is that the reason why the Montana Supreme Court ruled the way they did is because they have a Blaine Amendment in their state constitution. There are 37 other states that have these Blaine Amendments that restrict the ability of the state to have any kind of financial interaction with any religious entity. With this case, the Supreme Court could rule very narrowly. Say, “Yep, Montana, you’re good to go. Go forth, include these religious schools and everything’s fine.” Or the Supreme Court could set down a set of principles about these Blaine Amendments to say, “Look, this is just grossly discriminatory to say secular schools are okay, religious schools are not okay when both sets of schools are supplying the benefit to the child that is exactly the same, math, reading, meeting of the state’s education standards.” So, that’s the case. It’s really big. Oral arguments will be next week, and then we’ll get a ruling from the Supreme Court no later than the end of June.
Jen Wagner: Yeah, so we’ll know in 2020 where we stand moving forward. Robert, you were going to jump in and say something?
Robert Enlow: No, I was just following up. It’s interesting, I think a New York Times columnist, Dana Rothstein, I think it is, who just did a really large study talking about how traditional public schools are indoctrinating kids. And so this conversation about what is an acceptable form of school. If the concern is religiosity. Well then based on the reporting and studies that she’s been doing of textbooks and things like that, there’s a clear set of indoctrination principals in other school types as well. And so I think the Supreme Court will have to consider, can you neutrally apply this benefit if you exclude some types of school?
Leslie Hiner: Mm-hm, that’s exactly right. Yeah. There’s no question about it. And with the Espinoza case, so that’s not the only thing going on. There are a couple of runner ups.
Jen Wagner: I was going to say, we’ve got the runner ups here, runners-up? Runner-ups? Runners-up.
Leslie Hiner: The honorable mention cases.
Jen Wagner: Honorable mentions.
Leslie Hiner: That’s a little easier. There’s a case out of Maine. Maine has chosen to do the same thing with their town-tuitioning program that they’ve excluded religious schools. Even now in Maine, they adopted their town-tuitioning program in 1873. Private schools could participate until 1981. That’s a long time at private school participation and then to say, “Oh, no. We don’t think so anymore.” So, that case is currently pending before the first circuit court of appeals. It’s very similar to Espinoza, so we’ll see if that makes it up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
And then the other one is a little bit different. It’s originating out of Maryland, the voucher program there. A school, a private religious school there, Bethel Christian Academy is suing because they’ve been kicked out of the program. They’ve been asked to refund all of the tuition funds that they receive from students using vouchers. And the reason is not because they’ve done anything wrong. They have not done anything wrong. They have followed all the rules of the program. Everything’s fine. However, the state said that they were uncomfortable with the language, the religious language, that is found in their school handbook, and that’s why they kicked them out. Grossly discriminatory, but it’ll be argued. That case is just now beginning to move. So, if you are a listener to the legal podcasts—
Jen Wagner: Which you should be.
Leslie Hiner: Yes, that’s right, that Jen and I do. Probably here in the next few months, I think that we’ll have some action out of the court and I’ll report to you on that.
Jen Wagner: Excellent. It’s going to be a really, really busy year for you and for the legal landscape for school choice. So, we’re coming down the home stretch here, y’all. We’ve got two more categories, and this one’s a new one. This is our Most Likely to Expand. We decided this year to focus that one. Actually, we’ve never had this category before, so we’ve created it to focus on efforts in Pennsylvania. So, Robert, can you tell us what’s going on in Pennsylvania that’s so exciting?
Robert Enlow: Sure. But for the caveats first, I’m going to put my Milton mask on and quote Milton when he said, “The achievement of effective parental choice requires an ongoing effort to inform the public about the issues and solutions. An effort that is not episodic linked to particular ballot or legislative initiatives but that is educational.” EdChoice is an educational organization. And our conversations about any of these programs have nothing to do with any candidates of any kind because we don’t advocate and have nothing to say about that.
That said, when you’re just looking at the landscape, when you’re just objectively looking at the landscape and saying which states might expand their choice, Pennsylvania is on the top of the list. So, Pennsylvania has been trying really hard over the years and it has expanded it regularly. It is actually one of the… I think the second largest tax credit program in the country with around 40,000 families or higher in the program. And it has a very broad eligibility pool, so it is a very big program and they last year passed an expansion of their tax credit scholarship only to have the governor veto it. This year, I think they’re looking at a broader view. They’re starting to think about education savings accounts. They’re starting to think about how to fund families in a different way.
And so, we really think that there’s a chance there, and they’re even looking at funding families who are military families. I think one of the key things that we’ve got to realize is the men and women who serve us in the Armed Forces have so much struggle when it comes to education. And they have put so much service to our country and we should serve them by allowing their families to choose the schools that work best for them.
Jen Wagner: Yeah, we have some great original research on that. If you’re interested, go to our website, edchoice.org and click on “Research.” We’ve got two surveys of military families that definitely back up what Robert just said is that those families have very unique needs when it comes to K-12 education for their kids. And so we should probably be thinking about them as we design policies to serve those families.
All right, so our last category is the Most Likely to Succeed. This is the one that’s the most like a yearbook, like most popular, Most Likely to Succeed in 2020. And this year that goes to Georgia, which similarly is potentially considering an ESA program. Robert, you can talk about that, or Drew, if you want to talk about that, either one of you.
Robert Enlow: So, there’s always states that come up and up and down on the radar screen when it comes to getting a school choice program passed. Sometimes you never know which wave is going to crest at the right time. But looking at a place like Georgia, there is a significant abundance of effort there. And there’s been ongoing work to try and promote educational opportunity. And with the new governor and lieutenant governor in particular, they are legislative leaders, and they’re going to take another look at a more broad universal ESA program again trying to give families more chance. It already has a universal tax credit program and a special needs scholarship program as I recall, or it did. I think it still does, I believe.
Leslie Hiner: Yep, sure does.
Robert Enlow: There are 64 programs now in America in 29 states.
Jen Wagner: I think it’s 67.
Robert Enlow: 67? When I first started in this organization, there were like six programs in six states. And so it is hard to keep up, and that’s one of the reasons why this category is always a very flexible category. But Georgia has been… There’s a lot of people in Georgia who’ve been putting a lot of work into education savings accounts, and I think this year there may be a good opportunity to pass something.
Jen Wagner: Yeah, I think it’ll be an interesting year. It’s an election year, obviously. You’ve got a lot of folks at the state level that are running for office or trying to run for office. And so we’ll see if school choice factors in, but we know that when legislatures convene next year, a lot of them will be taking up ideas like school choice. And we’ve got a lot of advocates. That’s the cool thing. I’ve been here for four years, and I’ve seen our trainings and our group of people who support school choice grow not just in number but in diversity of thought, diversity of location, which is incredible. And we’re going to keep up that hard work no matter what happens at the state level. So, before we sign off, any parting thoughts on the superlatives this year, Drew?
Drew Catt: Yeah, I’m really glad that we don’t have any negative ones, Most Likely to Fail.
Jen Wagner: Biggest Setback, we had Biggest Setback. Nevada was a bit of a bit of a downer this year.
Drew Catt: But it doesn’t have to be. As Leslie said, they easily could be overturned. We’ll see what happens. I don’t know. How about… I don’t know. I’m having a hard time thinking of new categories. So, dear listeners, please send us your ideas for new categories because we love talking about as many programs as we can and giving all the states a shout out. So, send us your ideas.
Robert Enlow: And I think as we start to think about this issue differently at EdChoice, choice where it’s not just the kids who are going into private schools, but it’s the kids using magnet schools. It’s the kids using schools, public schools across their district. It’s the kids using charter schools. It’s the kids getting educated at home or in any kind of micro environment. This idea of educational transformation is so much bigger than a school type. And so I could see us in future expanding this idea to a lot different things like seeing what happens across district wide, maybe the best public school reform of the year. There’s all sorts of great things we could be looking at because education is the most important thing we can do as a state and as a country.
Drew Catt: No, that was one of the reasons I loved Nevada’s ESA program, or love Nevada’s ESA, whatever it is technically on the books. Because hypothetically you could take a third of your classes at public schools, a third of your classes at private schools, and a third of your classes online and just be an ESA student and do whatever’s best for you.
Leslie Hiner: Right, and that’s really the key. And that’s the thing that really impresses me about the superlatives this year. If you look back at the states that we talked about, we talked about small population states like South Dakota and Montana. And we talked about big population states, Pennsylvania and Florida. And I think the message here is that it doesn’t make any difference if you are living in a real small rural area, very low population, or if you’re living in the heart of a giant city, whatever your circumstances are. What really makes all of this work is two things. First, there are kids with needs. There’s no question about that. There are kids across this country who have real educational needs. And secondly, there are moms and dads and neighbors and family members who are willing to stand up for those kids and to say, “Wait, my child has value. This child right here who has these educational needs has real value. Oh, and by the way, we know how to make it happen so that that child’s needs can be fulfilled. So, I don’t know. Why don’t we do that? Why don’t we help these kids?”
I am so very impressed with all of these people from so many different backgrounds living in so many different types of situations across the country, rural or inner city, whatever it is, who are willing to stand up. And they’re not just fighting now. They’re not just fighting for kids when a program’s enacted, but they keep going. You made this point earlier, Jen, that’s really important. When people see the value of it, boy, they love it. They understand it, and they want to be part of it. When you participate and make this happen for kids, you are definitely participating in something that is larger than yourself. It’s something that’s really good. For all of us here, we’ve been working on school choice for many, many years and the rewards are always, well, they’re great.
Jen Wagner: Yeah, it’s kind of hard to believe that next year will be… 2021 will be our 25th anniversary of what was the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, now EdChoice. So, if you’ve got ideas for 2021, as Drew said, hit us up on email firstname.lastname@example.org. And I would be remiss if I let us sign off without promoting The ABCs of School Choice, which is where the superlatives were drawn from. We update the print publication every year. You should be seeing that in your mailboxes end of February, early March. And we keep the dashboard on our website, edchoice.org, up to date with real-time information about school choice programs, participation eligibility, any changes that happen throughout the year. So, you can always use that as a resource. So, thank you Leslie, Robert and Drew. On behalf of all of us here at EdChoice, I’m Jen Wagner, and we’ll catch you next time.