Guest Commentary: The choice is yours, Arizona

Today, more than half of Arizona families choose to send their children to a school other than the one assigned to their home address. It is wonderful to see Arizona parents and families empowered in this way.

Parents clamoring for more quality choices have given rise to innovators in education who have developed new school models that deliver education in a variety of exceptional ways. This is a huge benefit to Arizona families.

As Arizona students head back to the classroom, let’s remember the privilege families in our state have to choose a school environment that best fits their one-of-a-kind child. After all, some states deny families free options other than their assigned school. And, as long as we insist that that every choice delivers a high-quality education, we should support all school models as equally valuable to the families whose needs are successfully met through them.

We often hear about the school choice debate at the political level. But what does it mean at the personal level?

It allows the family with special needs to find a quality school model that can recognize and teach to their child’s learning style.

It allows students in a failing school to attend a better quality school, even if it’s not in their neighborhood or immediate zip code.

It allows the student with a keen interest in art, robotics, music, or computer science to flourish in a specialized school environment rather than be disengaged or uninspired.

It allows the child who is the victim of bullying to find haven and a fresh start within a school focused on social and emotional learning.

It allows high school students to dual enroll and get ahead with college credits or to learn firsthand on the job with apprenticeships and internships related to their passions and talents.

Beyond these examples, having more choices in the marketplace keeps all schools sharper, and if nothing else, highlights those that need to up their game. And here is where many become uncomfortable with the debate around school choice. It’s hard to acknowledge that neighborhood schools sometimes fail students.

As a former Title I school teacher myself, I more than understand these challenges. Still, I’m far more empathetic to the needs of Arizona kids obtaining the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in life than I am to prioritizing adults over student learning. For me, the more ‘D’- and ‘F’-rated schools that fall away this year in place of models producing amazing results for their students, the better. After all, there is only one answer to this question for every parent: If you knew one school would bring opportunity to your child and one would not, would you exercise choice?

As we embark on a new school year set against the backdrop of a somewhat tense education climate, let’s remember what quality school choices have provided for Arizona families and why we need to fight hard to preserve all of them.

Emily Anne Gullickson is the executive director and co-founder of A for Arizona.

Emily Anne Gullickson

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