A key leader in the school choice movement dubbed 2023 “the year of universal school choice” during the John Locke Foundation’s Carolina Liberty Conference on Jan. 26-27.

In 2023, there were 111 bills introduced in 40 states relating to Education Savings Accounts or vouchers, according to Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Indianapolis-based group EdChoice, formerly known as the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

Seven states enacted new programs in 2023. Arkansas, Iowa, and Utah passed universal ESAs, which are parent-directed accounts that allow families to pay for approved education expenses like private-school tuition, tutoring, therapies, textbooks, and more. South Carolina, Nebraska, and Montana also took steps forward on their choice programs, and Oklahoma passed a universal tax-credit program. Meanwhile, eight states expanded their existing programs.

There are now 10 states with universal school choice programs: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, West Virginia, Indiana, and North Carolina.

“The movement toward the idea of Education Savings Account is here. It’s not going away. It is the largest and fastest growing type of program,” said Enlow.

About 36% of American schoolchildren — around 20 million total — are eligible to attend a school of choice or use a program to customize their child’s education.

Nationwide, 61% of schoolchildren are in assigned traditional public schools, 12% in chosen public schools, 7% in charters, 5% in magnet, 5% homeschool, 7% at private out of pocket, and 2% at private schools through school choice programs, and 1% in virtual schools.

Homeschooling has been the area of fastest growth. And of that growth, the fastest has been among black single mothers choosing that option, Enlow said.

All school choice programs combined total $6.3 billion — or less than 1% of the existing $793 billion spent on K-12 public education nationwide. “This isn’t destroying the budgets of anyone. It’s a rounding error in most public school districts,” Enlow pointed out.

What’s next for school choice? Enlow pointed to challenges with implementing programs across the country.

“The ultimate success of ESA programs or choice programs will depend on how well we implement. Passing universal choice is just the tip of the iceberg. If we implement these programs poorly, there is a real danger,” he said.