In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, families bear the twin burdens of inflation and indoctrination. Parents continue to witness their children being taught divisive, radical ideologies that portray their country as intrinsically racist, place social justice above fundamental subjects such as reading and math, and even divide children by race. All this while academic proficiency drops off a cliff.
The soaring costs of living make alternatives such as private school or homeschooling increasingly unattainable for middle- and working-class people. But now, after a decade of battling the failing public education system, parents finally have a reason to hope.
Just two years ago, not a single state had universal school choice. Today, nine do.
To understand how groundbreaking this education renaissance is, just look at the state of Iowa. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-IA) began 2023 by signing into law the Students First Act, which allows all Iowa families to receive funds in an education savings account, or ESA, to attend the school of their choice.
By the 2025-26 school year, every single child in Iowa will have access to an ESA to craft a learning option that works for them. It’s not just a discount—this year, the ESA amount is approximately $7,500 per child, which covers the entirety of private tuition for most elementary school students in the state. Any leftover funds can be used to pay for other education-related services and products, such as tutors and textbooks. This marks a much-needed reprieve for parents who have watched their children struggle within an outdated system that lacks accountability and flexibility.
Iowa’s law is the nation’s third universal education choice program, following closely behind West Virginia and Arizona’s 2022 ESA expansions. Six other states have since adopted similar—and, in some cases, more expansive—policies this year: Utah, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina.
But Reynolds didn’t stop at school choice, either. She also signed into law a common-sense parental rights bill, SF 496, that prohibits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools in grades K-6 and prohibits school libraries from stocking sexually explicit materials. The law also requires libraries to post their card catalogs online for the sake of transparency.
Critically, the law incorporated components of the Given Name Act, prohibiting schools from hiding information from parents about a child going by a different name or pronoun at school.
In a separate measure, the governor signed into law a bill that provides flexibility to traditional public schools, removing some of the regulations pertaining to teacher and librarian hiring and burdensome reporting requirements to the state.
These groundbreaking reforms have earned the Hawkeye State the Heritage Foundation’s 2023 Education Freedom Award. Due to the new laws pertaining to transparency, teacher freedom, and school choice, Iowa jumped an impressive 13 spots on the Heritage Education Freedom Report Card relative to the state’s 2022 standing—the largest improvement of any state in the country.
Florida retained its first-place position, and Arizona stood strong in second place, thanks in large part to the universal education savings account options in both states.
Rounding out the top five were Utah, Arkansas, and Indiana, all of which contain universal or near-universal school choice for families.
On the flip side, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Oregon rounded out the worst-performing five states on our ranking.
More states, including Texas, are recognizing the pivotal role school choice plays in maximizing academic transparency and accountability. Reynolds is among those leaders who recognize that these reforms go hand-in-glove. Transparency and parental involvement in a child's education are vital, but without meaningful choices, they lack teeth. The ultimate accountability lies in the power of families to direct their child's education if their current, government-assigned school fails to meet their needs.
Parents should be in the driver's seat of their children's education. Yet right now, too many families are confined to a system that doesn’t align with their values or the specific needs of their children. Iowa is among those states breaking away from the monopoly enjoyed by the education establishment. Their road map is now available for more states to follow.
This piece originally appeared in Restoring America by the Washington Examiner