Atlantic Analysis of Private School Attendance-A View from the Cactus Patch

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Atlantic has a fascinating analysis of private school attendance by state and city making use of real estate data from Trulia and public school quality data from Great Schools. Go read the whole thing.

Like now…

Back already? Ok good.  So here is one strand to take away from this from the perspective of someone who is accused on being out to “destroy public education” here in my pleasant patch of cactus. So let’s start with the stunning unsurprising fact that private school attendance is heavily skewed towards high-income families:

Atlantic 1

Mmmm hmm, but those nasty school choice programs are killing public schools in Arizona by draining money and students off to private schools right? Eh, not so much:

Atlantic 2

Arizona is a relatively low-income state with the wealth concentrated among largely empty-nester retirees. If it were not for our private choice programs, Phoenix might make the list for the Top 10 metropolitan areas with the lowest private school enrollment. Oh, wait…

Atlantic 4

 

So we came in at #6 despite our choice programs. The Atlantic analysis demonstrates a positive correlation between higher rates of private school attendance with lower levels of public school performance. This might fail to show up in Arizona, despite some of the lowest NAEP scores in the country, if no one can afford it and the state’s grading system hands out A and B grades like a tipsy krewe in a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade:

Atlantic 5

 

But gosh, there sure are a lot of people in Arizona who seem convinced that private schools are just killing the public school system. Sure relatively low spending might really have much more to do with living in a relatively poor state with a tax system designed to be friendly to snow birds (charging them low residential property taxes and effectively no income tax if they are even modestly careful with their time) but why let little pesky “facts” get in the way of a good story?

Well, maybe this is a good reason:

Arizona facility needs

So estimates for the increase in the 5-17 year old population increase between 2010 and 2030 range from just under four times the current private choice program population at the extreme low-end to almost 22 times on the high-end.  It’s worth noting that 4 year olds are eligible to receive public assistance for preschool in Arizona, that many 18 year olds are still in school, and that some students start school younger and stay in the public school system until age 21, but that is mostly just piling on. The state spent $2,650,000 between 1999 and 2008 on new district spaces despite the private choice and charter programs, and can no longer afford to do so. Mind you that $2,650,000 built more space in one of the lower performing public school systems in the nation if you judge by NAEP scores, but even this is really no longer financially feasible.

Someone explain to me how a system, like Arizona’s ESA program, that allows kids to choose their method of schooling with only 90% of the state funding, with the hapless and overcrowded districts keeping their local funding, is such a terrible idea.  How exactly is this going to “destroy public education” etc?

Anyone?

Bueller?

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