(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
The Arizona House Education committee passed a four-year phase in of universal public school eligibility for the Empowerment Scholarship Account program, and a separate measure aimed at improving the administration of the program. Jonathan Butcher, Jason Bedrick and Sydney Hay all provided insightful testimony, as did a number of current ESA students and parents. One of the supporters of the bill noted in committee testimony last night that each expansion of choice in Arizona has been preceded by dire predictions of doom, but that in fact Arizona public school outcomes have improved rather than worsened. Quite right:
Arizona students have been leading NAEP cohort gains since 2009. The only two obvious things that stand out about Arizona K-12 in my mind have been larger than average budget cuts brought on my the Great Recession and parental choice. Arizona did change over academic standards during this period, but the national analysis of Hanushek and Loveless leads one with the unmistakable conclusion that this change had at most a modest amount to do with the improvement, likely less than that. I haven’t yet heard a plausible link between budget cuts and improving academic outcomes. In my book this leaves choice as, well:
Opponents recited their litany against draining money from the public schools, noted teacher shortages, etc. A “student surplus” however is another way to express a teacher shortage. Arizona school districts simply cannot hire enough teachers to serve their current level of enrollment, and it is worth noting that things would have been far more dire without the advent of choice in 1994. Without out the advent of charter schools in 1994 and private school choice in 1997, it is not clear just how the districts would have managed to cope with an enrollment increase far larger than moving from 737k to 914k between 1994 and 2012 (see figure above).
District supporters don’t like to admit that they need help in coping with enrollment growth- they’ve got it all covered, allegedly. Hmmm…
Arizonans have been rewarded for their embrace of pluralism in education thus far. Let’s see what happens next.