American Federation for Children - Corey A. DeAngelis, National Director of Research


School choice teaches Iowa Republicans a big lesson

School choice was on the ballot in the Iowa Republican primaries last week, and it won. It’s the latest in a series of state primaries where school choice has been emerging as a litmus-test issue for GOP primary voters.

Iowa stands out as a bellwether because of the high-profile battle over school choice between Gov. Kim Reynolds — a rising leader in the GOP who was recently tapped to respond to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address — and fellow Republican lawmakers in the statehouse.

One of Reynolds’s top legislative priorities this year was a bill that would have created state-funded education savings accounts (ESAs) that families could use to customize their child’s education. Similar to policies in 10 other states, families could use ESAs to pay for private school tuition, tutoring, textbooks, online courses, and a variety of other education-related expenses.

Under Reynolds’s proposal, up to 10,000 ESAs worth about $5,000 annually would have been available to students with special needs or those from households earning up to four times the federal poverty line (about $110,000 for a family of four).

“If education truly is the great equalizer,” Reynolds declared, “we should create opportunities for more families to provide their children with the education choice that’s best for them. That’s exactly what this legislation does.”

Reynolds’s school-choice proposal easily cleared the Iowa Senate in a vote of 31 to 18, with only one Republican joining the Democrats in opposition, but soon encountered fierce opposition in the House. Although 60 of the 100 seats in the Iowa House were held by Republicans, whose state and national party platforms endorse school choice, the measure failed to garner majority support.

Reynolds, however, didn’t give up so easily.

In an effort to pressure state lawmakers into supporting her proposal, the governor held up the budget, even waiting until after the 110th day of the legislative session, beyond which legislators are no longer paid their per diem for meals and housing. Moreover, Iowa legislators are legally prohibited from receiving campaign contributions from lobbyists and political action committees while in session.

Nevertheless, legislators in the House held firm against it, citing concerns about the effects of school choice on traditional public schools.



Parents Wanted School Choice — and They Voted

The following was originally published by National Review.

Republican politicians are calling themselves the Parents’ Party. Parents are holding them to it.

Last year, Glenn Youngkin won Virginia’s gubernatorial election by riding a wave of parental discontent over district schools that were failing to open for in-person instruction, be transparent about radical curricular materials, or even keep kids safe. Youngkin promised to make schools more accountable to parents and to enact policies that give parents more choices among schooling options.

Governor Youngkin’s victory owed much to the playbook used by Ron DeSantis in the 2018 race for governor of Florida. DeSantis made school choice a centerpiece of his campaign, and voters rewarded him. In a race decided by fewer than 40,000 votes, his unusually high level of support among black women (18 percent, or about 100,000 votes), who chose him over an anti–school choice black Democrat, Andrew Gillum, proved decisive.

The source of this support was likely related to the state’s tax-credit scholarship policy, which empowers more than 100,000 low- and middle-income students to attend the schools their families choose. Gillum backed a lawsuit that threatened to eliminate it. DeSantis promised to defend and expand it. The rest is history.

In the wake of these victories, Republicans began wrapping themselves in the mantle of parental rights and school choice, but the fulfillment of their promises has been mixed. States such as West Virginia and New Hampshire enacted bold new education-choice policies in 2021, while Florida, Indiana, and more than a dozen other states expanded existing choice policies.

Nevertheless, choice initiatives stalled this year in Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Utah, with some Republicans casting the deciding votes. Voters have started to take notice.

For Republicans, school choice has emerged as a litmus-test issue on par with being pro-life. Indeed, GOP primary voters in Texas displayed higher support for a pro-school-choice ballot proposition (88 percent) than a pro-life one (83 percent). Likewise, recent polling of Republicans in Oklahoma found even higher levels of support for school choice (78 percent) than for pro-life policies (68 percent).

In recent primaries, GOP voters threw their support to candidates who supported choice, even if it meant tossing out otherwise conservative incumbents.

School choice was the clear dividing line for many primary runoff races in Texas. Representative Phil Stephenson, an incumbent backed by the teachers’ union, lost to school-choice supporter Stan Kitzman, who secured 58 percent of the vote despite spending less than half of what his opponent spent on the campaign, according to Transparency USA data. Likewise, school-choice champions Ellen Troxclair and Carrie Isaac both defeated candidates who were endorsed by the Texas affiliate of Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers.

In all, eleven of 14 Texas House of Representatives candidates endorsed by the pro-school choice Texas Federation for Children PAC won their primary runoffs.

In nearly all these races, the losing candidates toed the party line on key issues such as abortion, gun rights, and taxes. The primary issue where they diverged from their party platform — and their electoral base — was their opposition to school choice.

The results in Texas appear to be part of a nationwide trend. Last month in Kentucky, an incumbent known to be the leading opposition to school choice in the Republican caucus, Representative Ed Massey, suffered a devastating primary defeat by school-choice champion Steve Rawlings, who garnered 69 percent of the vote despite being significantly outspent.

Candidates endorsed by American Federation for Children Action Fund and its affiliates won their primaries or advanced to runoffs in 38 of 48 races in Texas, Arkansas, Idaho, Georgia, and Nebraska so far this year.

Some Republican governors are working to hasten the trend. After the Iowa legislature failed to pass her proposal for K–12 education savings accounts, Governor Kim Reynolds endorsed multiple pro-school choice candidates — including, in a rare move, some who are challenging anti-choice incumbents.

Any party that wants to benefit from the moniker “the Parents’ Partywould be wise to demonstrate its commitment to empowering families with more educational options.

Last year, a quarter of voters in Virginia said that education was the issue that mattered most in their choice of governor. Earlier this year, a RealClearOpinion poll found that 72 percent of registered voters nationwide supported expanding education choice, including 67 percent of independents, 68 percent of Democrats, and 82 percent of Republicans.

Parents are already taking notice. Although an April poll found only a three-point advantage for Republicans in congressional races overall, they boasted a whopping 28-point advantage with parents of children under the age of 18 (60 percent to 32 percent).

Parents want more education options. It is time for elected officials to stand and deliver.

Mr. DeAngelis is the national director of research at the American Federation for Children. Mr. Bedrick is a research fellow in the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation.


It’s Time for America’s Cities to Go All-In on School Choice

The following was originally published by National Review. 

School choice is the civil-rights issue of the 21st century. Choosing the right school opens opportunity, it shapes success, it prevents failure, and it unleashes economic opportunity. Great cities need dynamic schools to remain open, vibrant, and responsive to their residents’ needs. We believe the best way to improve our schools and invest in our future is to expand parent-driven school choice.

This is why the Suarez administration will partner with charter schools by offering them the space necessary to expand the overall number, quality, and choice of charter schools in Miami. Giving more parents more learning options — especially tech-based options — that work best for their children is a gamechanger. We believe parents, not administrators, ultimately drive school quality, performance, and outcomes. Now is the time to expand charter schools that integrate tech education to support Miami’s future economy.

Miami has always led on school choice. In 1996, T. Willard Fair, the president of the Urban League of Greater Miami, partnered with Governor Jeb Bush to start Florida’s first charter school in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood. Even a decade ago, Alberto Carvalho, former superintendent of Miami-Dade public schools, foresaw the changing landscape in education: “Rather than complain about the incoming tsunami of choice, we’re going to ride it.” Since then, Miami-Dade County has launched 140 charter schools, serving more than 70,000 students, and more than 440 private schools that serve tens of thousands of students with school-choice scholarships. Miami has done well, but now we need to do better.

Building on Miami’s diverse education offerings is another reason that a growing number of high-profile financial firms and tech firms are relocating to Miami. Many of these new companies know our workforce is one of the most talented and competitive in the world. But they also know that to keep and to expand our edge, we need to expand the scale and scope of tech education in Miami. Charter schools offer a compelling choice for parents and students. We believe that we can turbocharge our economy and job opportunities by offering a full spectrum of educational choices through charter, public, and private schools. Miami-Dade currently has 115 magnet schools serving 70,000 students, and tens of thousands of other students in other district-created options. The Miami Education and Schools Association (MESA) program seeks to boost school choice by complementing, not competing with, our existing schools.

Moreover, the students who benefit from increased school-choice options are overwhelmingly from historically discriminated-against communities. In a 2019 study, the Urban Institute found students using the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-income families — 24,502 students in Miami-Dade used them last year — are far more likely than their public-school peers to enroll in colleges and earn bachelor’s degrees. And a 2020 study published by the National Bureau for Economic Research found that, as that same program grew, students in the district schools most affected by competition saw higher test scores.

We believe the benefits of school choice already accrue far beyond schools. High-quality research in other cities and states shows students in choice programs are more likely be civically engaged, socially responsible, and more politically tolerant. The innovation, optimism, and talent that education choice unleashes from the bottom-up spills over into every other sector of a smart, healthy, creative city. It spurs entrepreneurship. It yields a more capable, more dynamic, and more confident work force.

A stronger education system has positioned Miami even better for the challenges and opportunities that await all our cities. We believe incentivizing the growth of charter schools provides the choice and quality of schools that parents want and companies need. Increasing school choice is a pathway to economic freedom, student achievement, and parental involvement. This is a future all of us should fight for.

Francis X. Suarez is the mayor of Miami and the new president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Corey DeAngelis is the national director of research at the American Federation for Children.