News & Politics

GAME-CHANGER: Arizona Families Will Now Be Able to Take Their Education Dollars Elsewhere if Schools Close—Even for a Single Day

AP Photo/Denis Poroy

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey just fired a shot across the bow of teachers’ unions and COVID-panic advocates who insist on keeping kids out of classrooms, despite the minimal risk of severe illness and death from the virus among school-age children.

In a preemptive move, the Arizona governor, a Republican, announced that his office is creating the Open for Learning Recovery Benefit program “to provide relief for parents who may face financial and educational barriers due to unexpected school closures.”

The program will fund “up to $7,000 for needs related to Arizona Department of Economic Security-approved child care, school-coordinated transportation, online tutoring and school tuition.” [Emphasis added]

Ducey’s communications director, CJ Karamargin, told PJ Media, “This program is about being preemptive and proactive in case any additional disruptions occur.”

“It is our hope and full expectation that Arizona schools are going to remain open, to the greatest extent possible,” he addes.”Parents also need options — to the greatest extent possible. That’s what this program is intended to provide.”

Parents across the nation have been become increasingly frustrated with unpredictable and sporadic school closures due to COVID-19 exposures and positive tests among students, leaving them scrambling to find childcare and rearrange work schedules to accommodate virtual learning.

Under the innovative new program in Arizona, parents will be able to access the education funds, subject to income requirements, if a school closes for even one day.

“In Arizona, we’re going to ensure continued access to in-person learning,” said Ducey in a statement. “Everyone agrees that schools should stay open and kids need to be in the classroom.  With this announcement, we are making sure parents and families have options if a school closes its doors. Parents are best suited to make decisions about their child’s education. In-person learning is vital for the development, well-being and educational needs of K-12 students. We will continue to work with families, public health experts and school leaders to ensure our kids can stay in the classroom and parents have a choice — always.”

Karamargin said families making up to 350% of the federal poverty level will be eligible for the program, so a family of four making $92,750, well above the median family income in Arizona, would be able to participate.

In October, child health experts warned of a “mental health state of emergency” for children and teens amid the ongoing pandemic. Education Week reported that “mental health emergency visits among children are on the rise,” adding that between March and October of 2020, “they increased 24 percent for children ages 5 to 11, and 31 percent for kids ages 12-17. There was also a more than 50 percent spike in visits for suspected suicide attempts among girls ages 12 to 17 in early 2021, compared to the same period in 2019.”

“We really have been raising the alarm about this throughout the pandemic and for many years before as we’ve been seeing increasing rates of mental health concerns in children and adolescents,” said Dr. Lee Savio Beers, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a professor of pediatrics at the Children’s National Hospital. “Part of the reason why we came together now is that we’re continuing to see real increases in mental health concerns, and tremendous increases in visits to pediatricians’ offices, [as well as] in child and adolescent psychiatry offices and in hospital emergency departments. And at the same time, we’re not seeing good movement around increasing the access to the services that students need.”

Related: Data Matters: School Closures Only Accomplished Harm; Teachers’ Unions Must Be Held Accountable

Nevertheless, teachers’ unions and other progressive organizations continue to beat the “shut it all down” drum, spewing forth an endless stream of agitprop designed to keep parents fearful and teachers comfortably at home while their students suffer through online learning.

Corey DeAngelis, national director of research for School Choice Now, told PJ Media that every state should follow Arizona’s lead. “If a Safeway [store] doesn’t reopen, families can take their money elsewhere. If a school doesn’t reopen, families should be able to take their children’s education dollars elsewhere.”

DeAngelis said parents should be able to take their children’s education dollars elsewhere regardless of COVID protocols. “Education funding is meant for educating children, not for protecting a particular institution. We should fund students, not systems. This is the only way out of this mess. Funding students directly and empowering families to find alternatives gives schools an incentive to cater to their needs.” Such “bottom-up accountability” would allow families “to vote with their feet,” he said, which is “the strongest form of accountability that exists.”

Arizona’s move “is a step in the right direction towards freeing families from the clutches of the teachers’ unions once and for all,” said DeAngelis.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) pointed out that federal legislation allowing families to take their education dollars where they please is languishing in Congress:

The bill would allow “certain federal funds for elementary and secondary education to follow the student to the school that they attend (i.e., public, private, or home school), regardless of whether the student is learning in person or remotely.” The funds could be used for “educational and instructional materials, tutoring, tuition for private school, and extracurricular activities.”

If Randi Weingarten and her minions want to keep schools closed until every last sneeze and fever in America has been eradicated, let them. Children have a right to an education in the United States. If the public schools aren’t providing that—and even if they are—parents should have the right to use those education dollars to pay for whatever educational choice fits their family’s needs. Leaving children languishing in online school chat rooms—or in failing public schools—is no way to run what’s supposed to be a world-class education system. Parents are best suited to decide what type of education their children should receive, and it’s time for our laws to reflect that fundamental truth.