You’ve read the dismal facts and figures: only 76.1 percent of Arizona children graduate from high school. There are 90,000 students in Arizona at schools that receive D-grades – enough children to fill a stadium. These facts and figures are not just heady factoids, they equate to a very real and urgent problem for employers – an incoming workforce that requires significant remediation or is totally unprepared for the job.

The solution to this education crisis is twofold, but very simple. And you can be a part of it.

First, information is critical. This year, Arizona parents and communities were empowered to evaluate their local schools through useful information – a grading system that makes it clear how the school is performing and what the outcomes for children will be. If your school is given a D grade, it’s probably time to look at other options. This brings us to the second part of the solution, one that business owners understand well: competition.

Competition in education is another name for school choice. As children (and families) are able to “walk” with their funding to better educational providers, the outcomes for those children – and the ones who remain – improve.  As schools lose “customers” to better performing schools, much like in any business, they must re-evaluate how they do business and change to better serve their clients – the kids.

Arizona public schools currently spend close to half of their state funding outside the classroom. Charter and private schools spend a majority of their funding per student on things that directly affect the classroom and students – curriculum, technology, teacher salaries. It’s clear walking into any non-traditional school that the focus is educating the kids, as these schools have much less administration and overhead than traditional district schools. As parents take advantage of school choice – and leave traditional schools – the existing schools are forced to reconsider where they spend time and resources, how they can refocus on the classroom, and ultimately attract families back into their schools.

Arizona currently leads the way in the number of school choice options available to parents. Public school open enrollment, private school choice, charter schools, home schooling and excellent online education are all options used widely in Arizona. That said, only 15 percent of Arizona’s children take advantage of choice options. The number is growing – yet, tens of thousands of students remain on tuition scholarship and charter school waiting lists, waiting to “walk” from schools that aren’t working for them.

In January, thousands of students, teachers, business leaders and public officials celebrated National School Choice Week – bringing attention to the need for more options for parents and how successful a choice is when students are able to move to an environment that better suits their needs. As more students are empowered to “walk” and choose better options, this “rising tide” will lift all boats and force under-performing schools to improve.

The competition effect has been observed and very successful in Florida. Florida has had a simple grading system for public schools for years and offers many options to tens of thousands of parents across the state. When the grading system was implemented in conjunction with choice, not only did the number of failing schools drop dramatically in the first few years, but it also improved many other areas of education — reducing the achievement gap between minority and white students, increasing parental satisfaction and involvement in all schools, and shifting the focus of education from preserving a “system” to serving children.

Arizona offers the broadest number of choice options in the country and is paving the way for more families to take advantage of those programs. Your company can help!

Get involved by taking part in the discussion, supporting school choice, contributing to the Arizona tax credit scholarship programs like Arizona School Choice Trust (participating costs nothing for you or your company!) and by demanding improvement in the existing system.

There is no time to lose. Every year we have more choice, the prospects and outcomes for our workforce improve. Contact me if you want to get involved! Call (623) 414-3429.