Several red states appear poised to adopt expansive school-choice policies this year, prompting the teachers unions and their allies to claim that the sky is falling, especially in rural areas. Corey DeAngelis is right to call out the Chicken Littles for their scaremongering (“The Little Red Schoolhouse Could Do With a Little Competition,” op-ed, Dec. 17), pointing to copious evidence that choice and competition have a positive effect on public-school performance.
Arizona, a longtime leader in school choice, is the perfect example. It was the first state to enact tax-credit scholarships in 1997 and K-12 education savings accounts in 2011. More students in Arizona exercise school choice than in any other state. If school choice destroys rural public schools, as opponents claim, then Arizona should be ground zero.
The opposite is true. Arizona’s rural students have improved much more than rural students nationwide have over the past decade. From 2007 to 2019, Arizona rural students’ fourth and eighth grade reading and math scores on the National Assessment for Educational Progress increased by a combined 21 points, while scores in rural schools nationally decreased by two points. Postpandemic, Arizona’s rural students were still up a combined nine points while rural students nationally dropped 17 points from 2007.
As we detail in a forthcoming Heritage Foundation report, school-choice policies have greater potential to benefit students in rural areas than ever before, including those who remain at their local public schools. Rural residents and the policy makers who represent them have nothing to fear from school choice—and students have much to gain.
This letter originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal on December 23, 2022.