What could education reform in Arkansas look like?
3 min read

What could education reform in Arkansas look like?

Next Gen
Jan 8
3 min read

37th, 43rd, and 45th. Those are Arkansas’s rankings in reading, math, and college readiness, respectively, for our educational system. Without a doubt, what we are doing now is not working.

And it's the next generation of Arkansans that will pay the price: without access to a quality education, they're headed for lifetimes of poverty and dependency, prolonging destructive generational cycles even more.

For too long, the state has put bureaucrats’ preferences over what’s best for kids. 

They’ve put systems over students.

And they’ve put arbitrary district lines over the basic freedom that Arkansas families deserve to send their kids to the school they want.

Case and point: Arkansas spends less than one tenth of one percent of its educational spending on educational freedom. 

Arkansas’s kids are perpetually falling behind because we put the status quo—our archaic system—ahead of empowering parents.

But the good news for the next generations of Arkansans is that real change is finally here: Governor-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders has reiterated time and time again that empowering parents and solving the education system’s systemic problems are a top priority.

What might that look like? Perhaps Arizona, the current gold standard of educational reform, provides a few clues—or at minimum, some good ideas that Arkansas should be closely considering.

Just last year, Arizona expanded its Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program to every single family in the state. 

Through ESAs, Arizona families can opt-out of the traditional public school system and use a large portion of their tax dollars to send their kids to a school that fits their needs—whether that be private school, homeschooling, a micro-school, or another option.

Now, an Arizona zip code no longer determines where a child must attend school and instead parents have the resources to take charge of their child’s education and cast away the failed one-size-fits-all policy of the past.

Even in its infancy, the Arizona ESA program was a tremendous success, helping those in the poorest areas the most

The program quickly scaled from just 1,000 students in the early 2010s to more than 11,000 in the early 2020s—now with more than 1,000,000 Arizona students eligible.

Imagine if parents and kids had these opportunities in our state.

Imagine if parents had a say in where their kids go to school, no matter their income.

Imagine if incentives mattered in the school system and schools had to compete–and be responsive to parents.

And imagine if, by giving every Arkansas kid access to a quality education, we could dismantle the culture of dependency that has ravaged this state for generations?

Arizona has shown it’s possible. Now, it’s AR turn.

Image of the story authorHayden Dublois
Visiting Economist

Hayden Dublois is the Visiting Economist at Opportunity Arkansas. His primary research areas are welfare, health care, workforce, unemployment, and tax policy.

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