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.

 


ESA makes a Customized Education Possible for Jordan Visser

April 10, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Watch the above video from the Alliance for School Choice, and mind you, that the customized education that Jordan is receiving is using only state funds which districts have spent decades describing as inadequate. Whatever school district Jordan used to attend, assuming that school finance works the way public school advocates and lobbyists have claimed, would have been making a large shift of their own general education dollars in an attempt to educate Jordan.  The district suffers no harm in losing Jordan, and in fact, one could make the case that they now have more resources to use on their remaining students.

Jordan benefits having an education custom designed to meet his needs.

Sadly a group of the anti-choice usual suspects are in court trying to make use of Blaine language forged by 19th Century Know-Nothing and Ku Klux Klan bigots in an effort to force students like Jordan back into district schools. I hope they will reconsider.


ESAs in the NYT

March 28, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The New York Times has a story on the progress of the school choice movement. Money quote on Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program:

The Arizona Legislature last May expanded the eligibility criteria for education savings accounts, which are private bank accounts into which the state deposits public money for certain students to use for private school tuition, books, tutoring and other educational services.       

Open only to special-needs students at first, the program has been expanded to include children in failing schools, those whose parents are in active military duty and those who are being adopted. One in five public school students — roughly 220,000 children — will be eligible in the coming school year.       

Some parents of modest means are surprised to discover that the education savings accounts put private school within reach. When Nydia Salazar first dreamed of attending St. Mary’s Catholic High School in Phoenix, for example, her mother, Maria Salazar, a medical receptionist, figured there was no way she could afford it. The family had always struggled financially, and Nydia, 14, had always attended public school.       

But then Ms. Salazar, 37, a single mother who holds two side jobs to make ends meet, heard of a scholarship fund that would allow her to use public dollars to pay the tuition.       

She is now trying to coax other parents into signing up for similar scholarships. “When I tell them about private school, they say I’m crazy,” she said. “They think that’s only for rich people.”

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM