Experts advance connections between school choice and workforce development

In early July, Gov. Ducey signed the most expansive school choice bill in the country, offering $6,500 to families per year, per student for private schooling, home education, micro schooling, tutoring, or any other educational services that meet student needs outside of the public school system. 

Arizona has a long history of being a national leader when it comes to school choice and parental empowerment. Now, experts say that Arizona’s innovative approach to school choice not only provides parents with immediate solutions and students with new opportunities—it will greatly enhance workforce development. 

According to Jenny Clark, member of the Arizona State Board of Education and Founder/Executive Director of Love Your School – a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families explore school options – school choice will have a substantial impact on Arizona’s economy by creating a more skilled workforce and, in turn, augmenting job productivity.

“School choice is improving Arizona’s economy by providing students with unique, flexible and individualized options that help them to learn their very best. The ESA is leading to a more high-powered workforce that values innovation,” said Clark, “what’s more, the immediate solutions that the ESA provides, relieves parents of stress and boosts overall job productivity.”

Emily Anne Gullickson, a lawyer, former teacher and current President and CEO of A for Arizona and Great Leaders Strong Schools mentioned that recent Arizona laws which give public district and public charter schools more flexibility in developing new models and programs prove that parents are hungry for change. 

“We’re positioning Arizona at the forefront of the 21st century economy by redesigning and reimagining what education looks like. By being innovative and rigorously honest with the state of workforce development, we are providing students with learning opportunities that fit their exact needs,” said Gullickson.  

“We are seeing more educators and business leaders cross collaborate. Leaders are coaching each other and partnering with one another to challenge students in a wide range of subjects,” explained Gullickson, “leading industry experts and instructors are equipping students with skills that can only be learned through experiential learning. These partnerships are revolutionizing the way we develop a highly skilled workforce.”

According to Clark and Gullickson, the northstar of all school choice programs is sustainability – mentoring and empowering the next generation of community and global leaders through a holistic approach. 

“School choice provides students with options and opportunities with a holistic impact,” said Clark. “These programs are really exciting parents because their kids are being introduced to new careers and are developing new skills daily.”

“For example, with the ESA program, my kids can attend a Phoenix woodworking school once a week, taught by an expert general contractor with over 30 years of experience, to learn how to use sophisticated equipment and build complex, everyday goods. These skills are universal and are applicable to their daily lives, not just business,” Clark added.

This culture change revolving around education is inspiring new entrepreneurs and education start-ups to expand or relocate in Arizona. Clark emphasizes that more education options increase school quality and makes educational institutions more accountable to parents. 

Gullickson highlights that new learning modalities offering safe, secure learning environments can deliver game-changing results. More specifically, skill modalities created by inspired entrepreneurs revolving around innovative technology have become an important lever for Arizona students, especially in rural areas. 

“40% of entrepreneurial leaders in Arizona are rural business owners and most apply for grants. We have Southern Arizona specific grants since they’ve become visionaries in educational opportunities such as establishing STEM hubs,” said Gullickson, “we have seen collaborative learning hubs at the Boys and Girls Club in Nogales and Vail Micro schools have partnered with their local Chamber of Commerce to provide students with more accessible learning experiences.” 

Both Clark and Gullickson also emphasized that more actionable entrepreneurs have been migrating to Arizona to provide more education opportunities for students.

For instance, Learnfully, a full-service digital learning platform which balances insights from machine learning and expert human interaction to assess how students learn best then connect those students with specialists to best help them with their learning, has recently expanded to Arizona to help families with their educational needs.

“We’re an ambitious start-up serving customers on the nexus between technological advancement and educational services,” said Letha McLaren, Learnfully CEO and Co-Founder, “We aren’t just a problem identifier, we connect students with solutions and instructional support fit specifically to their needs.” 

For Learnfully, school choice accelerated the opportunity to bring their services to Arizona.

“School choice in Arizona has given our company the chance to bring our expertise to help families who would not have been able to otherwise,” said McLaren.

And the company is making a big impact on the Valley by providing foundational learning and fundamental skill development opportunities centered around improving executive functioning, social and emotional skills to a diverse clientele base. 

“Only 60% of learners have a diagnosed learning difference diagnosis at Learnfully, which means that whether diagnosed or not—there are countless more learners that require personalized education support,” said McLaren, “every child is different and it’s important to us that we provide the best possible services that fit every child’s distinct needs.” 

Both Gullickson and Clark say this has a ripple effect on the economy. School choice options inspire not only entrepreneurs looking to enter the educational services industry but also other industries like transportation and infrastructure as the state tries to answer other complex questions like when and where students learn best.

Michael Kittilson

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