Over 20 years after the initial study, researchers still find that parents in Arizona have the most freedom in choosing what education is best for their children, compared to parents in the rest of the United States.
In 2000, the pro-school choice think tank Manhattan Institute created the Educational Freedom Index (EFI) to measure how much educational freedom parents in each of 50 U.S. states possessed at that time.
Specifically, the EFI judges each state based on various factors, such as whether parents have a wide selection of charter schools from which to choose, whether parents have access to private school options via vouchers or tax subsidies, whether parents can home school their children with relatively few restrictions, and whether school districts are small enough to make it easy for parents to transfer their children from one to another without having to move.
Arizona, which was undergoing a rapid expansion of charter schools, received the highest ranking in 2000. It maintains the lead in education freedom in the 2021 EFI (pdf), which was updated and released Thursday by the Manhattan Institute, partnered with the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas.
“A great deal has changed since 2000,” wrote Matthew Ladner, executive editor of education news site RedefineED and co-author of the 2021 Index. “A state with the amount of choice exercised in the Arizona of 2001, however, probably would rank as middling in the 2021 rankings. While Arizona ranked first in 2001 and first in 2021, the amount of choice being exercised by Arizona families today is far greater than it was in 2001.”
According to the study, Florida gained more than any other state in the rankings, climbing from the 35th place in 2000 to the seventh in 2021. It is followed by Georgia and Indiana (plus 23), Kentucky (plus 22), and Louisiana (plus 20).
“Florida still has large countywide school districts, inhibiting intra-district choice, and few Floridians homeschool,” the study explains. “But lawmakers have actively pursued school voucher and tuition tax credit programs, and more recently passed the nation’s largest education savings account program.”
By contrast, Texas experienced the hardest drop in all 50 states, slipping from the sixth place in 2000 to the 29th in 2021. The researchers noted that although the Lone Star State’s charter sector doubled during the period from three to six percent, its lawmakers didn’t pass any private school choice law, and its availability of homeschooling options declined.
When it comes to whether high level of education freedom lead to improved academic outcomes, the researchers performed a regression analysis to find that high EFI score “strongly and significantly” associated with better results in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly known as “Nation’s Report Card.”
“Not coincidentally, Arizona charter schools produce high levels of average academic achievement,” the researchers note. “Only charter schools that parents value strongly are likely to survive competition from local districts, other charter schools and private schools.”
“State officials do occasionally revoke an Arizona charter as part of a renewal process, but the parents far more commonly close schools based on their own prudential judgments,” the report reads.