I vividly remember a discussion among friends before a legislative session just a few years ago. The question? Can we really predict another great year for school choice up ahead? After all, West Virginia had just gone from having zero school choices to having the nation’s most expansive education savings account (ESA). Most years, we could hardly count half that much progress. What else was there to get done without many years of struggle? Indeed, some guessed, we were overdue for a course correction and a few more familiar, challenging legislative sessions ahead.

The next year, Arizona legislators would expand that state’s ESA to be available to all students. Soon after, parents shrugged off naysayers, including many battle-weary allies in the education reform space, and soundly defeated a union-led attempt to roll it back through a ballot initiative. Four months into 2023, four more states have expanded school choice to every student. Apart from Florida, all expanded from relatively limited or no prior options. There’s never been a year like this for school choice.

In fact, the tides have shifted so rapidly that all sides of the debate have changed their expectations.

In late March, when Georgia Republicans stood with the unions to block recent efforts to expand the Peach State’s choice programs, it was devastating — especially for families desperately needing choices. And throughout the rest of the year, other states may face similar setbacks. Defeat is always discouraging, and perhaps it’s no surprise that some opponents are eager to cite any setback as a reason to declare that the school choice wave has crested.

They’re wrong. School choice supporters would do well to keep things in perspective, too. If zero states passed a bill, 2023 would still have more victories than ever before. Of course, many more states are still moving ahead, including one of the two — Nebraska — where no choice exists. Remembering the great privilege of the time we are living in should give reformers even more urgency to keep fighting.

Education freedom and school choice are concepts dating back nearly to America’s founding, woven throughout Black Americans’ struggle for freedom and a fundamental part of many Americans’ lives. But for much of modern history, and indeed the lifetimes of contemporary reformers, one-size-fits-all education was the rule, not the exception. The nation’s first charter schools began in the early 1990s, but it would be 20-plus years before charter enrollment would top 5 percent nationwide.

I was a young child when my home state of Florida began experimenting with private school choice around the same time. Not long after, Arizona did the same. But for most of the rest of the country, the idea that parents could have the right and opportunity to direct their children’s education funding remained unheard of, and actual choice mainly was limited to those who could afford to move to a preferred school district or pay private tuition.

Make no mistake about the stakes involved: Students stuck in schools that failed to meet their needs risked the entire trajectory of their lives. Some parents even ended up in jail for trying to send a child to a school outside zoned boundaries without permission. Somehow, American society accepted a status quo in which a certain number of students would be condemned to failure year after year, and only those with the means could escape. And then, something changed.

Many books can and likely will be written about the causes of the seismic shift in American education policy around 2020, but it seems clear that the failure of the education system during the COVID-19 pandemic shattered something. Whether it was the unbelievably cynical behavior on display from unions, the unexpected window into the realities of American classrooms that opened at countless kitchen tables, or the undeniable educational damage that we will be unraveling for a generation, the old rules about what education reformers could achieve suddenly went out the window.

Getting just one universal school choice program over the finish line for the last several decades would have been an earth-shattering accomplishment. Now? Our opponents take it for granted and cackle about failure when they think progress may have stalled at four in four months. Reformers should beware of similarly losing perspective.

School choice is a notoriously high-stakes, high-emotion policy area — anyone who has worked in the space knows that even tiny disagreements on bill design and implementation can spiral into generational feuds. The issue’s urgency drives strong feelings, but it should not lead us to forget what really matters.

For most of our lifetimes, school choice was a niche concept limited strictly to a tiny number of American students. The system failed untold generations of children while promising to fix itself with just a little more money. Then, at some point during the pandemic, the system went too far, and now we have the chance of a lifetime to chart a new course of permissionless education. We should stay focused and take it for the sake of children who will follow this once-in-a-generation moment.