There are alternatives to fighting

August 25, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So I was reflecting further on this graphic from Fordham showing that urban areas of Ohio are surrounded by suburban districts that do not participate in open enrollment in dark blue:

Notice also all of those dark greenish districts which very strategically will take kids from adjacent districts, but not from other districts. Hmmm…I wonder who they are trying to avoid (?)

I lack the advanced graphic skills of Fordham, but I did manage to come up with an open enrollment map of Arizona. Again the districts not participating in open enrollment are marked in dark blue:

Actually this is slightly exaggerated, but only slightly. I am told that there are a few small rural districts that have basically agreed to collude with each other and not take open enrollment transfers from nearby small rural districts. This collusion prospers only because they face no meaningful competition from charters or private choice, as the lack of population density does not lend itself easily to such options.

Based upon a system of highly economically and racially segregated housing, districts suffer from high levels of segregation. The simple-minded narrative that choice programs re-segregate has many problems, starting with the reality that the districts never desegregated. The irony of our social justice oriented choice programs- useful and worthy as they are- as the Ohio map reveals they fail to unlock the suburban districts to transfers. Give the Columbus area good stare in the map above and ask yourself about the likely impact on integration if Cbus kids were allowed to transfer to the adjacent suburban districts.

You can’t win by fighting the suburbs (google “School busing debacle” youngsters) but in the words of Kenobi, there are alternatives to fighting. Broad choice programs, given time to marinate, open seats in the suburban districts creating a growing incentive to participate in open enrollment. In Arizona you see people repeating poorly considered mantras concerning choice and segregation in robotic-like precision, but they are missing the forest for the trees. If we had a map of the United States similar to the one of Ohio above I fear that it look largely similar. Scottsdale Unified did not take thousands of open enrollment transfers because of a higher level of tolerance and enlightenment, but rather because of incentives built by choice programs.





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.


You know what I love about AZ tax credits? Every year I get a little older but they just keep getting 100% of private schools to participate…

May 7, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So yesterday here on the Jayblog we were discussing the fact that the Indy and Louisiana voucher programs only get a third of private schools to participate, while the Florida Step Up for Students program gets 71%.  If the main goal of the program is to broaden choices for parents, this is rather important. Jason Bedrick sent me an email asking what the private school participation rate is in the Arizona tax credit program. I replied that we probably could not know because there are so many STOs, but I was wrong.  The Arizona Department of Revenue has an answer: 337 private schools participate.

Pop over to the Digest of Education statistics for the number of private schools in Arizona- 340.


Now the AZ tax credit program has generated more than a little criticism over the years.  Keep in mind however that the three Notre Dame ACE academies on the south side of Tucson that I introduced you to last week would have closed years ago without it. Moreover, the financial transparency in the system has improved.  The Arizona Department of Revenue tracks the income of recipients by individual scholarship groups.  If you want to focus your tax credit donation on lower-income children, as Mrs. Ladner and I have done for the last decade, you need only select a scholarship group that fits your preferences.

In any case, approximately all Arizona private schools participate in the Arizona tax credit program, and the Arizona tax credit program does nothing to compromise the independence of private schools. I know that the program is not everyone’s cup of tea, and there are things about it that I would change if the people of Arizona were foolish enough to make me Emperor (fortunately they are not) but let’s recognize a strength when we see one: the AZ program was designed to expand parental options and it is doing just that.


The Way of the (Near) Future: Arizona Legislature Passes ESA choice bill

April 8, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Yesterday the Arizona Senate gave the final passage for SB 1553, Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, the nation’s first system of public contributions to education savings accounts as a choice mechanism, 21 to 7.  The bill is now on Governor Brewer’s desk. Designed to replace Arizona’s special needs voucher program lost to our Blaine amendment, the ESA program will allow the parents of a child with a disability to withdraw their child from a public district or charter school, and receive a payment into an education savings account with restricted but multiple uses.  Parents can then use their funds to pay for private school tuition, virtual education programs, private tutoring or saving for future college expenses.

Congratulations and thanks to sponsors Senator Rick Murphy and Represenative Debbie Lesko, my colleagues at the Goldwater Institute especially my coauthor for the ESA paper Nick Dranias. The tireless hard work of Arizona’s school choice coalition resulted in this passage, including but not limited to: A+ Arizona, the Arizona School Tuition Organization Association, the Arizona Catholic Conference, the Center for Arizona Policy, the Goldwater Institute and the Institute for Justice in additional to national partners such the Alliance for School Choice, the Foundation for Educational Choice and the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

This has been quite the week for parental choice in Arizona. First, the United States Supreme Court dispatched a challenge to the tax credit program that had been bouncing around in the 9th circuit for many years. Somehow in the fevered imagination of the ACLU an entirely voluntary program in a state which subsidizes secular options at a much higher rate than the tax credit scholarship compels parents to send their children to religious schools. It would be nice if these guys would follow the lead of the ACLU in Los Angeles and do something useful like suing against tenure policies that really damage the education of children.

Instead, they will probably go straight into court on the ESA program. Sigh. Nick and I followed the lead of very perceptive questioning in the Arizona Supreme Court’s deliberation over special needs voucher programs to make the case for the constitutionality of the ESA concept under the restrictions of the Arizona Constitution. Attorneys on both sides of the case agreed that a program allowing multiple uses of funds would not violate a restriction on providing aid to private or religious schools. Otherwise, we can argue that it is unconstitutional to pay state workers salaries out of the public treasury: some of that money winds up paying private school tuition in religious schools. 

Quelle horreur!

Parents will be using this program for things other than private school tuition, and parents have an incentive to look for education programs which deliver strong results and a low-cost due to the possibility of saving for college expenses. Paging Dr. Technology! As I’ve argued here before, this is a superior design for a parental choice program, and I’ll go further by saying that when we get any kinks worked out, choice supporters should seriously consider converting voucher programs into a system of public contributions to ESAs.

Next the legislature expanded the maximum size of an individual tax credit contribution from $500 for an individual and $1,000 for a married couple filing jointly to $750 for an individual and $1,500 for a couple in addition to the ESA bill.  The legislature also voted to eliminate the statewide cap on the corporate credit.

Great team wins all. Now we need to roll up our sleeves and get these programs to work for the kids who need them.