Another ESA momma bear attack spotted in the Arizona Republic letter page

August 15, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

If you are squinting  at your iPad, this letter basically asks where the calls for oversight were when her child’s district received $26,000 from the state and the district delivered an hour of speech therapy with a side order of indifference. “Before we attack and try to defund the ESA program that is doing a lot of good things for disabled kids, maybe we should look into the lack of oversight and accountability in our public schools.”

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Recall Challenge for Arizona ESA expansion

August 10, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Anti-choice activists delivered 111,540 petition signatures to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office two days ago in advance of the deadline in order to subject SB 1431 (2017 ESA expansion) to a vote of the public. Whether or not this will result in the number of legally required valid signatures remains unclear- judging from the previous history of validity rates it is very likely to be close either way. It will take weeks before we have a final answer. Only the expansion of the program, rather than the program itself, faces uncertainty. The program will continue to operate for the students eligible under the previous law without interruption.

What “Save Our Schools” group has done is both impressive and misguided. The chattering classes in Arizona, including me, were broadly skeptical regarding their chances. Gathering signatures out in the summer Arizona heat is an indicator of real passion. Their fury however were deeply misplaced. The real victims here are the hundreds of parents who had submitted an application to the Department of Education to participate and the larger number who had planned to apply.

Last Friday at a public Arizona Talks debate, Zeus Rodriguez made the point that the question of whether to have parental choice and the question of how much to spend on public schools are entirely separate decisions. Choice opponents seem to fail to appreciate that school funding decisions are reached democratically (both directly and indirectly) and that districts remain (by far) the best funded option both in absolute and on a per student basis. The fixation on the ESA program as a boogeyman is especially odd. Approximately 3,500 students participated in the AZESA program last year- we have multiple individual high schools with more students. Whether you examine numbers of students or dollars invested, the absurdity of blaming private choice for every district grievance becomes clear:

and in terms of dollars:

Funding for K-12 education is guaranteed in the Arizona Constitution and this provision enjoys the broad support of the public. It is under no threat from anyone as far as I can tell. The history of the last 22 years demonstrates that even the district portion of public education has more kids and more money than when parental choice experiments began. Fast growing states do not in other words face a zero sum game. Had Arizona choice supporters been out to “destroy public education” in the state the two charts above demonstrate that this imaginary effort would have to be judged a spectacular failure.

Fortunately, our real project is entirely different.

The evidence supporting the real project (improving variety, diversity and performance) is much stronger. Arizona has more choice options than any other state, and alone among all states made statistically significant progress on all six NAEP exams for the entire period that we can track all exams (2009-2015). When you net out significant declines from increases the typical state saw one significant increase during this period.  Arizona students made more progress on math 2009 and 2013 as 4th/8th graders, and then did it again between 2011 and 2015. This of course does not prove that choice caused the improvement, but when you take a close look at the gains, it is very difficult indeed to argue that they have hurt:

Stay tuned to see what happens next. My sympathies lie entirely with the families who just had an opportunity yanked away just before the start of the school year.

 

 


Brookings Institution finds that 82% of American families live within five miles of a private school

April 10, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Arizona lawmakers passed a broad expansion of the state’s ESA program last week, meaning that we got treated to every anti-choice talking point you can imagine during the debate, some far more dubious than others. One opponent for instance asserted that the ESA program was reminiscent of a very unfortunate history decades ago when officials kidnapped Native American children from reservation lands and forced them to attend schools in Phoenix, breaking their families up.  As you might imagine, this level of overconfident paternalism bears a scar to this day. Parental choice would of course bring this history to mind if not for the fact that it is in fact the polar freaking opposite of having some idiotic government official decide where your child was going to go to school whether you like it or not.

But I digress…

Transportation lies more in the realm of worthwhile discussion- parents can only choose between schools within transport range. Private schools engage in a variety of formal and informal transportation efforts- including carpools and buses, but the lack of tightly packed attendance boundaries presents challenges as choice schools tend to draw from large areas for students. Brookings has produced a very helpful study finding that 82% of American families live within five miles of one or more private schools.

So let’s take a real world example. A few years ago I blogged on the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education program having partnered with a group of South Tucson Catholic schools. South Tucson has many low-income students and a sadly large number of low-rated public schools, but it also has a number of private schools within walking distance. Transportation is not the main issue in South Tucson- the ability of families to cover the modest tuition costs remain the main obstacle.

The complexity of the ESA program eligibility requirements were another obstacle, although one that has been overcome. This is a Powerpoint slide that ACE used to explain how they went about attempting to qualify children for Arizona choice programs under the formerly Byzantine rules of AZESA:

Having said all of this, not every child will have the same proximity to private schools as the kids in South Tucson. We can hope that additional private schools will open to meet demand, and the ESA does provide options outside of attending private schools. I am also hopeful that the Nevada ESA program will be funded this year, and we can see how including transportation as an allowable account expense works out in practice.

 

 


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…

 


Arizona ESA Prevails in Court

March 21, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Arizona Supreme Court has refused to hear the appeal of the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program, allowing an outstanding Appellate Court decision to stand as binding precedent.

Congratulations to the crack legal eagles at the Goldwater Institute and the Institute for Justice and the State of Arizona for winning the case. It has been a great blessing to work with so many dedicated lawmakers, colleagues, parents and donors in Arizona and across the country that helped to bring this program to life.

To Senator Blaine, the Know Nothings, the KKK and anyone else involved in writing bigoted anti-Catholic language into the Arizona Constitution eat your hearts out. This is a small but crucial victory in a larger struggle against your disgusting legacy.

Most of all congratulations to the participating parents. Their stories can bring even the stoic to tears.  The program upon which your family depends is safe from court assault now. Thank you for your unyielding support!


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