Florida and Arizona Top-Ranked States in Heritage Foundation’s Education Freedom Report Card

The Heritage Foundation ranked Florida, followed by Arizona, as the states that most empower parents in their children’s education and support education freedom.

On Friday, Heritage published its first Education Freedom Report Card which provides measures of the concept in four categories: school choice, academic transparency, regulation freedom, and spending.

Florida is the top-ranked state overall across all measures.

The state currently ranks #3 for school choice, and Heritage says Florida “does exceptionally well” in providing choice for parents among private, charter, and traditional public schools, offering K-12 education savings accounts (ESAs), and “generally” respecting homeschooling families.

Heritage notes, however, Florida could still improve by expanding eligibility for private education school choice.

The report card ranks the Sunshine State as #1 on the measure of academic transparency:

Florida lawmakers set a high standard for academic transparency and rejecting critical race theory’s pernicious ideas in 2022. State officials approved a proposal that prohibits teachers and administrators from compelling students to affirm the prejudiced ideas of critical race theory. Lawmakers also approved a proposal that requires academic transparency so that parents and taxpayers can review classroom assignments before educators use such materials as part of K–12 instruction.

Florida ranks second in regulatory freedom, making it one of the least bureaucratic states for students and teachers wanting to pursue education.

The state maintains “full reciprocity of teacher licensure,” which allows teachers from other states with valid licenses to teach in the Sunshine State.

Additionally, Florida has eliminated use of the Common Core–aligned tests.

Nevertheless, Heritage asserts Florida shows “room for improvement” in that 42 percent of its public school districts with more than 15,000 students have a “chief diversity officer,” an administrative position.

On the spending measure, Heritage ranks Florida as #7 overall in return on investment (ROI) for education spending.

The state spends $11,043 per pupil annually, “the 48th most per pupil among states,” according to the report card, but is in 17th place in math and reading scores on the Nation’s Report Card (NAEP) assessments.

“Florida can improve its ROI ranking by continuing to make progress in math and reading achievement on the NAEP, limiting growth in non-teaching staff, and lowering its unfunded teacher pension liabilities,” which currently represents 4 percent of state GDP, Heritage states.

“Florida lawmakers set a high standard for academic transparency and rejecting critical race theory’s pernicious ideas,” said Lindsey Burke, director of Heritage’s Center for Education Policy. “An impressive 42% of Florida teachers are alternatively certified, making their way to K–12 classrooms through means other than a traditional, university-based college education.”

“And Florida does exceptionally well in allowing parents to choose among private, charter, and district schools,” Burke added. “If you’re looking for a state that supports families when it comes to directing the education of their children while keeping red tape and spending low, look no further than Florida.”

Arizona ranked second overall in the new report card, but Heritage observes the state just recently expanded its now universal ESA program, making it first in school choice, but still fifth in academic transparency and regulation.

“Arizona offers K–12 education savings accounts that families can use to customize the education of eligible students, and the state generally respects the autonomy of homeschooling families,” Heritage explains.

Nevertheless, this year, the state’s lawmakers weighed proposals to expand transparency and reject the teaching of concepts tied to Critical Race Theory, but did not adopt measures that would have advanced these goals.

The Grand Canyon State does require public school boards to allow parents to review curricula for sex education.

With regard to regulatory freedom, Arizona’s fifth place ranking reflects that only about 10 percent of teachers in the state are alternatively certified, meaning the vast majority are trained in university education programs, and that about 20 percent of public school districts employ a “chief diversity officer.”

The state’s ranking at 13th overall for ROI in education spending reflects Arizona spends the 49th most per pupil, with $10,734 annually.

Math and reading NAEP scores show Arizona is tied for 37th place and its unfunded teacher pension liability represents 8.3 percent of state GDP.

“Arizona can improve its ROI ranking by continuing to make progress on academic achievement on the NAEP, stopping growth in non-teaching staff, and lowering its unfunded teacher liabilities,” Heritage advises.

Idaho ranked as #3 overall in education freedom on the Heritage Report Card, “thanks in large part to a strong ROI for taxpayer dollars and high levels of transparency to parents,” the Foundation states.

Indiana and South Dakota took the #4 and #5 places in the report card’s rankings.

At the other end of the spectrum, demonstrating little to offer in the area of education freedom according to the report card, the District of Columbia ranked #51, followed by New York at #50, New Jersey at #49, Maryland at #48, Massachusetts at #47, and Connecticut at #46.

All state rankings on the Heritage Education Freedom Report Card can be viewed here.

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Susan Berry, PhD, is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].




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