Tale of Two 'A's: Alabama Buries Charter Bill, Arizona Expands ESA Choice

I’ve been telling you a lot lately about education goings-on in Colorado, and with good reason. There has been plenty to comment on. Yet once in awhile it’s good to step back and take a look at some other states. Today, specifically, I wanted to share with you a few thoughts about new developments from a couple A states. And when I say A states, it’s not that they necessarily deserve a passing grade.

First is last week’s awful news from Alabama. The local Decatur Daily reported:

Proponents of charter schools will likely have to wait at least another year as an Alabama House panel Thursday effectively killed a measure that would have allowed for the creation of the taxpayer-funded, privately-operated schools.

It’s sad to see that even public school parental options can’t gain any real traction in the Heart of Dixie. The teachers union, the Alabama Education Association (AEA), led the charge against choice. As the Education Intelligence Agency’s Mike Antonucci observed, the result should cause some reconsideration of what we describe as “strong union” versus “weak union” states. He also found that AEA’s anti-charter campaign was aided online by thousands of phony Twitter followers. Creative.

But seeing as how I like to save the better news for the end, we can celebrate yesterday’s awesome development from Arizona. Following last year’s successful adoption of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) for special-needs students, Grand Canyon State Governor Jan Brewer yesterday signed into law a program expansion that makes ESAs available to students from military families and students in failing schools:

The Arizona-based Goldwater Institute estimates some 11,500 school-age children of active military members and more than 94,000 students in public schools or school districts graded D or F by the state will be ESA-eligible. Currently, 125,000 students with special needs qualify for ESAs.

“This expansion gives more parents the ability to customize their children’s education,” said Jonathan Butcher, Goldwater’s Education Director. “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are a 21st century model for education other states would be wise to consider.”

Hear, hear. Now nearly twice as many Arizona kids are eligible to exercise greater choice through the groundbreaking ESA model. Perhaps it’s time for Colorado to take a look? When it comes to school choice, better to be like Arizona than be like ‘Bama.