Robb: Free Your Mind

April 17, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Arizona Republic columnist Bob Robb provided an insightful summary of the choice debate overall while commenting on the ESA expansion fight here in the Cactus Patch, but with broad applicability:

….the debate about vouchers isn’t really about money. The argument that vouchers drain district schools of resources has always been a diversion.

Instead, the debate is rooted in different views of the role of government in educating children.

The government, through the coercive power of taxation, establishes a central pool of resources for the education of students.

Voucher supporters believe that the pool should be used to provide the best educational opportunity for each child as determined by their parents. A proportionate share of the common pool should be available irrespective of whether that choice is a district, charter or private school. The focus should be on what is best for each child individually.

Voucher opponents believe that some children should be used by the government as sociological chess pieces. Their access to the common pool should be limited to the schools voucher opponents believe they should be attending, even if their parents believe it is suboptimal.

As Morpheus put it “What is the Matrix? Control.”

In other words, some people view children primarily as funding units for a system that employs a large number of adults. The other side views students as human beings with a huge diversity of needs and aspirations, a large number of which will not be met in a 19th Century Prussian factory model of service provision with a monopoly on the common pool funds. We have very helpfully moved away from this in Arizona, but each new step seems to elicit a fresh burst of misguided outrage. Robb used the term chess pieces, I prefer “funding units” but “copper tops” might be the most apt term:

 

 

 


Governor Doug Ducey signs AZ Empowerment Scholarship Account expansion

April 7, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed the expansion of the ESA program into law, becoming the first Governor to deliver on a sizable expansion of parental choice during the 2017 legislative sessions. The torch has been passed to a new generation of governors.

The other states are invited to hop on in-the water is fine!


Arizona Legislature Sends ESA expansion to tribal lands bill to Governor

April 2, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Arizona Senator Carlyle Begay succeeded today in passing SB 1332, which will expand eligibility to the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program to all children living on tribal lands. Senator Begay bravely faced a great deal of hostility from his own party on this issue, but correctly noted in committee testimony that the state ought to be seeking every possible way to get better results in Arizona’s tribal schools, and there was no reason to expect a mass exodus.

NAEP backs this position up completely:

Az American Indian NAEP

Congratulations to Senator Begay for leading on an important and difficult issue for the children in his district.  Congrats also for the Arizona choice coalition that worked very hard through an especially trying legislative session.

UPDATE: Senator Begay stated the following in a recent column“Serving in the Arizona State Legislature is not a popularity contest, nor is it a platform for grandstanding. I am here to serve my district, serve my state and uphold the progressive values that keep me moving forward.”

Two additional Democrats in the Arizona Senate joined Senator Begay in voting for final passage.

!!BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!


The Daily Signal on AZ ESA

December 15, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

It warms my heart every time I get to visit a school like the one in the video above.


Render Unto Caesar what is Caesar’s

May 1, 2014

St. John's

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

This week I had the opportunity to visit St. John the Evangelist school in Tucson. St. John is one of three Catholic schools on the south side of Tucson that entered into a partnership with the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame.

It was a deeply gratifying visit.

Greatschools rates the academic performance of nearby public schools as 2 out of 10 stars. St. John’s student body draws from an area of Tucson that is overwhelmingly Hispanic and low-income.  In the capital city of Phoenix, one frequently talk about how the RAND corporation found that if you “control for demographics” that Arizona NAEP scores are middling rather than rock bottom. This of course is a coded way of at least implying that we should not expect students like those filling the halls of St. John’s to learn.

Fortunately the St. John’s children are having none of such nonsense. I walked in to a kindergarten classroom, where I was greeted by a young man with a hand-shake.  He announced to me:

My name is Caesar and I am going to college in 2026!  Today we are studying letters and words.

I’m sure you can guess my reaction, something along the lines of:

!!!!!!!!!!!BOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!!!!!

The staff provided some details on the progress of the school during the partnership period. Through the hard work of the students and the faculty, both scores and enrollment have strongly improved.  The University has leveraged their network to create tax credit resources for the schools.  It is difficult work, but they are on their way.

Christian Dallavis, the Director of Notre Dame Ace Academies, provided the following slide as a part of a presentation at the American Enterprise Institute earlier this year.  The slide is a representation of the decision tree used by Ace Academy folks to discover which of the Arizona choice programs for which students may qualify.

ND Ace Funding

 

If that looks more than a little convoluted, it is only because it is in fact convoluted. During the last session, choice advocates suffered an unfortunate setback in the Arizona House. Choice champion Debbie Lesko attempted to pass a provision to allow children living in high poverty zip codes to participate in the ESA program. Given that the entire state testing system is currently in complete chaos without anyone knowing even what test will be given to students next year, the D/F rated school provision seems more than a little unstable.

Now the alphabet soup groups are seizing upon a drafting error from last session in an effort to turn the minimum funding for general education students from $4,800 to $3,200. Mind you that the districts get around $9,000 per child. The Superintendent of Public Instruction has publicly stated that the legislative intent of the law is clear, but the alphabets blocked clarifying language from passing in the legislature and have threatened to file suit against the department if the Superintendent follows the clear intent of the law.

I know some of these opponents well enough to say with some certainty that they could not possibly see what I had seen, look students like Caesar in the eye, and tell him “Sorry Caesar the dysfunctional system down the street needs you as a funding unit.  I hope that whole 2026 thing works out for you somehow but the needs of the system come first.”  The basic humanity of choice opponents would prevent them from doing such a thing, but the actions of their organizations seek just such an outcome.

Caesar deserves a decent shot to succeed in life.  Arizona policymakers should do everything they can to give it to him. Moreover, we should give thanks that institutions like St. John’s are willing to work so hard to help him achieve his potential.

UPDATE Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal released a statement today saying that after careful study of the statute and consultation with legal counsel that he has instructed Arizona Department of Education staff to fund the ESA accounts in accordance with the legislative intent of the 2013 statute. Legal action designed to strip additional funding from students like those described above will commence in 5, 4, 3, 2…

 


Governor Brewer signs two small ESA expansions

April 23, 2014

 

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The 2014 Arizona session is winding up, and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed two bills to improve the ESA program today.  Collectively these bills will keep the dependents of military children if their parents are killed in the line of duty, will make it easier for pre-school aged special needs children to enter the program without enrolling in a public school, and will make the siblings of eligible children eligible to participate in order to make it more possible for families to send their children to the same or at least nearby schools. The 2014 session marks the last rodeo for Governor Brewer, who is term limited.

Governor Brewer signed the ESA and a number of improvements into law, several tax credit program improvements into law, called for the creation of A-F school grades and fought hard for an earned promotion policy on literacy. She also vetoed a few choice measures here and there including a small tax credit measure today. She hammered through a temporary three-year sales tax ballot measure to increase to stabilize K-12 funding, but then stayed true to her word and stayed out of it while the alphabet soup groups made a complete hash of trying to create a permanent tax increase. Governor Brewer began Arizona’s first steps towards funding results rather than just seat time.  Let’s hope that further steps will materialize.

It’s been an incredibly difficult and tumultuous five years- the Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times” springs readily to mind. Several of the K-12 initiatives Governor Brewer supported remain a work in progress, making it feel strange to think that someone else will be exercising the duty of governor next year.  There has been a great deal of political blood spilled over some very difficult issues, but in my book, Governor Jan Brewer got far more right than wrong in K-12 reform.


The Empire Strikes Back in 2014

April 18, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Score another 2014 win for the bad guys, who defeated an attempt to expand the Arizona ESA program to high-poverty areas of the state yesterday.

The debate on the floor revealed that we choice advocates have a lot of work to do. A pernicious and false idea that came up is one that we are guilty of helping to spread- that we “already have school choice in Arizona.”  Arizona scores relatively well on choice when compared to most other states. We have inter-and intradistrict choice, one of the strongest charter school laws, tuition tax credits and the ESA program.  Arizona is parental choice nirvana, right?

Wrong.

A few years ago I tried to help a woman who lived in south Phoenix find a different school for her children, two of whom had been sent to the hospital as the result of brutal attacks by fellow students.  I put her in touch with a person who has helped parents in her situation for many years.  It was an eye-opening experience.

Let’s start with open enrollment.  This mother found the doors shut in her face.  Let’s just say that it seemed that the fancier districts were not overly interested in kids from south Phoenix and leave it at that.

What about charter schools?  Even South Phoenix charter schools with lousy academics, but where you might hope your daughter might avoid getting a pencil stabbed through the back of her neck, had long waiting lists.  The Great Hearts charter schools alone had a wait list of 10,000 kids last year.

Well you can always apply for a tax credit scholarship.  Except…scholarship groups have thousands more applicants than they can possibly help.

For this mother, it almost may as well been 1993- the year before Arizona passed its charter school law.

The ESA expansion that failed yesterday would have made students living in areas like south Phoenix and south Tucson eligible to participate in the ESA program. The expansion would not have cured the world’s pain nor dried every crying eye, but it could have provided a lifeline to thousands of families like the one described above.

It would be easy to be angry at the people who voted against this expansion, but the truth is that people like me need to look in the mirror and ask how we can do a better job of explaining why this is so important.