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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

What will Arizona parents choose?

Prenda microschools, usually based in a family home, got their start in Arizona.

The 21st-century one-room schoolhouse could be the big winner in Arizona, which has "expanded the frontier of school choice," writes Max Eden, an American Enterprise Institute research fellow.

The state's new Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program would give parents $6,500 to fund alternatives to the local public school. (Students with disabilities will get much more.) While some will use the money to help buy private school tuition, Eden predicts a surge in “pods” or “microschools.”

If a teacher were to advertise and attract a dozen students, she stands to draw nearly $80,000 in public funding to her microschool. After curriculum and supplies, she’ll still be making far more than the median teacher salary of approximately $50,000. More importantly, her students will get far more specialized attention, likely suffer through far fewer distractions, and are less likely to fall behind or slip through the cracks.

Kelly Smith opened a seven-student pod in his Arizona home in 2018, writes Eden. "By partnering with an online charter school," Smith's Prenda created tuition-free microschools that combine to "self-paced Chromebook lessons and group problem-based learning." It became a big hit during the pandemic.

However, many parents want "less time on laptops, more time with pen and paper, a knowledge-rich curriculum, and a focus on reading great books," writes Eden.

Arizona’s flexible and robust charter school system engendered the birth of the nation’s preeminent classical charter school network, Great Hearts Academies. Today, Great Hearts serves 22,000 students at 33 schools in Arizona and Texas and has a waiting list of over 14,000.
During the pandemic, Great Hearts developed an online school and then launched a new initiative, Great Hearts Nova, which franchises classical microschools by partnering with families to provide courses, curriculum, and teacher support. If Great Hearts cracks the code on these partnerships, it could put a high-quality, highly personalized, classical education within reach of every Arizona student. And if they don’t, someone else surely will.

Arizona began offering ESAs to high-need students in 2011, writes J.D. Tuccille on Reason. The new law expands that to nearly everyone. "The money can follow students to where they learn best." That includes homeschooling.

Arizona has been expanding the number of schools and school choice, wrote Matthew Ladner of reimaginED, in Education Next. From 2008 to 2018, Arizona students made greater learning gains than anywhere else, according to the Stanford Educational Opportunity Project. Arizona "led the nation in academic growth for both low-income and middle-to-high income students," writes Ladner. It was the only state with "a higher rate of growth for low-income students than for high-income students."

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