The Origin Story of Education Savings Accounts

August 19, 2019

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Over at Redefined I decided it would be a good idea to get the history of Education Savings Accounts written before any of us involved get hit by a bus. In the first post Dan Lips returns from walking the earth like Kung Fu (aka working on stuff other than K-12) to recount the school choice debates which helped inspire him to develop an account based choice proposal. In a sequel post I explain the circumstances by which we on the ground in Arizona put the ESA theory to practice.


Arizona Republic: Wet Streets Cause Rain

May 2, 2019

Image result for wet streets

The Republic’s crack team of reporters have determined that the above streets caused a major rainstorm.

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

Brother Matt’s takedown of the Arizona Republic’s absurdly erroneous and biased reporting reminds me of the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect, a concept identified by author Michael Crichton:

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them. In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

The Republic had its own “wet streets cause rain” moment recently when it claimed that Arizona copied its education savings account (ESA) legislation from model legislation at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In fact, as Ladner points out, the reverse is true: ALEC’s model legislation was based on Arizona’s law.

Indeed, as Ladner details, the Republic’s “reporting” on “copycat legislation” suffered from several other flaws, including but not limited to the following:

  • The Republic portrayed the use of model legislation as unusual and nefarious when actually it’s commonplace and banal, a tool used across the political spectrum since the late 1800s.
  • The Republic portrayed the use of model legislation as a particularly right-wing plot but excluded all the model legislation from the older and larger left-of-center National Conference of State Legislatures.
  • The Republic hid the fact that only 1% of the bills they analyzed were based on model legislation.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the Republic’s “reporting” is that it wasn’t really reporting. Had they any real interest in ascertaining the truth, there are any number of individuals and organizations in Arizona that could have provided them with accurate information had they asked. But they didn’t.

Indeed, their “Gaggle” podcast did not interview anyone from the pro-school choice side. They repeatedly used inferences to determine their “real” motives instead of just, well, asking.

Sadly, this is a part of a longstanding pattern. When the Goldwater Institute’s Matt Beienburg detected some serious flaws in the Republic’s award-winning “reporting” on charter schools, he brought it to their attention but they ignored him. He then wrote about it publicly and one of their most vociferous anti-choice advocates, Craig Harris, personally attacked him rather than engage in any substantive defense of their advocacy piece “reporting”:

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As I noted to Harris, if you add two green apples plus two red apples plus two oranges and get six apples, the math is right but the answer is wrong. Beienburg wanted to know if the Republic had inappropriately included certain schools in its data set when calculating graduation rates (e.g., a school that only serves students through grade 9, or another school that had been closed for two years), but Harris merely insulted him, claimed his math was wrong (without offering any proof) and then stonewalled any public debate.

For weeks afterward, Harris simply ignored any public questions about their reporting — though I know that privately, his team has admitted that they had done exactly what Beienburg had suspected. However, they have still refused to publicly correct their error, demonstrating a complete lack of intellectual honesty or journalistic integrity.

The Republic’s Gaggle podcasters also let their journalistic mask slip with numerous biased statements posing as neutral facts. For example, they claimed that Arizona lawmakers filed at least three ESA “expansions” that all “clearly went against the will of the voters” who rejected Prop 305. First, only one of those bills (making ESAs available to victims of bullying or abuse) was a clear expansion. The others were mere clarifications of existing eligibility categories that would have had a tiny effect on ESA enrollment. For example, students with disabilities are eligible for an ESA if they are entering kindergarten, but the Arizona Department of Education denied children who were age 6 (reading the law the allow only 5 year olds) so the legislation clarified that incoming kindergarteners could also be age 6. To call that an “expansion” is ludicrous, but the anti-ESA group Save Our Schools declared it such and advocates posing at journalists at the Arizona Republic and elsewhere took their side.

Moreover, it’s not at all clear what the “will of the voters” was. They rejected Prop 305, which expanded ESA eligibility to all students but also imposed a cap of about 30,000 ESA students. Some pro-school choice groups that support ESAs, like the American Federation for Children, opposed Prop 305 because it would effectively set the 30,000-student cap in legislative stone (requiring a supermajority to change it due to the Voter Protection Act). Is it the “will of the voters” that they want a universal ESA without a cap? And even if the majority of “No” votes opposed universal expansion, that does not at all imply that the majority of voters oppose, say, expanding ESAs to victims of bullying. To pretend that we can know the true “will of the voters” is sophistry at best. To make such claims as a supposedly neutral journalist is laughably absurd.

It’s time to stop treating the Republic as a neutral journalistic institution. They are openly advocating for one side, and they aren’t even letting the truth get in the way of their agenda. Let’s not let media amnesia make us forget it.


Teaming with Goldwater’s New Improved Matt to Tackle the Subject of AZ District Space Glut

February 12, 2019

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce Foundation and I teamed up with the Goldwater Institute to create a white paper on vacant district space. Arizona has one of the fastest growing student populations but oddly finds itself with a large glut of underutilized district space.

How large is it?

Ah well no one really knows because of severe flaws in reporting but the statewide floor starts at 1.4 million sq feet but the Arizona Auditor General found more than that in a single district by poking around a bit so the ceiling is much much higher. In any case Arizona’s district space increased by 2004 and 2017 by 22.6 million square feet—a 19 percent increase—despite a student enrollment increase of only 6 percent during this same period. Arizona not only has a glut of underutilized district space it appears to be growing.

Research from MIT of co-location of charters within district space demonstrates both financial and academic benefits to districts-specifically in increasing district resources and classroom spending in districts. Arizona has tens of thousands of students stranded on waitlists at high demand district and charter schools, millions of square feet in underutilized district space, and a need to increase resources for classroom use. Mutually beneficial arraingements are there for the taking between high demand schools with waitlists and districts with underutilized space. The scale of these gains are of a scale that Goldwater’s Matt Beienburg and I swallow our pride to point to legislation in California and New York (someone just yelled “get a rope and find a big cactus!) to serve as possible models.

Anyhoo- check it out here. It’s fun to be back writing with GI again.

 


The Republic is shocked SHOCKED to learn that there is PLURALISM in this democracy!

December 8, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Arizona Republic requested a FOIA for emails between the Arizona Department of Education and the Goldwater Institute concerning the ESA program. In those emails they found…a giant nothing-burger. I am a Goldwater alumnus and participated fully in the creation of the original ESA program. This opens me to charges of bias, but it certainly makes me familiar with the subject at hand. I don’t believe there is any bias in the case I will lay out below. That case is as follows: it is utterly routine for agencies to interact with stakeholder groups from all sides on all issues-including (dun! Dun! DUN!!!!!) the Goldwater Institute. Requesting the emails of a single group hardly begins to paint a remotely full picture of what goes on, and this article fails to make a case even within the confines of a narrow perspective provided by the emails of the single group.

You’ll have to read the article and navigate a great many assurances that there is something coming in the nothing-burger before you get to the end and are left with basically nothing. But along the way you get treated to gems like:

Special interests often write concepts for legislation or offer drafted bills and then lobby lawmakers to pass them. But Goldwater’s attempts to exert control over the Empowerment Scholarship Account program, from idea to implementation, was highly unusual if not unprecedented, experts say.

“This is almost an iron grip-level of influence from the beginning of the process on,” said Thomas Holyoke, an associate professor of political science at California State University-Fresno, who studies interest groups and lobbying.

Dr. Holyoke might need to go outside a bit more often. Let’s start with some basic facts. Arizona is a pluralistic democracy. Anyone and everyone in Arizona is completely free at any time to write emails to elected officials or agency officials. This happens non-stop and will continue to do so (God willing) for as long as Arizona exists. It is in fact one of the reasons agencies have email systems, but they also receive letters, phone calls, and various other forms of communication. They often meet with people in person. It is the gambling that goes on in the casino of American democracy, and everyone is invited to play.

I can assure you that ESA opponents have also been in frequent communication with the Arizona Department of Education officials as well, as have lots of other groups and people on this and lots of other issues. If one is inclined to create conspiracy stories, you don’t need to request emails.

Here I’ll do it now just for fun and to show how easy it is to do: one of the officials who helped oversee the administration of the ESA program was the son of a former President of the Arizona Education Association and currently lobbies for the Arizona School Boards Association. Another left the Arizona Department of Education to lobby for the Arizona Education Association. Perhaps all of those administrative problems that the Republic has documented over the years are like on purpose man! Maybe the Goldwater Institute was emailing the department because THE MAN doesn’t like kids having the ability to control their own education!!!

It’s like a CONSPIRACY!!!!

Just to be clear I don’t have a problem with either of these individuals- happy to have a drink with one or both of them on occasion when they are tolerant enough to hang out with Dr. Evil at a social event. And for the record, I don’t think that the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Program has been the victim of conspiratorial administrative sand-bagging. The administration of the program has challenges to be sure. This however is true of many things in a Department that, for instance, sends Title I and IDEA funds to the wrong schools, and has had the state’s student data system in years past crash for months at a time. It’s true that there have been issues with ESA program administration, deeply infuriating ones in fact, but this is basically true of a great many things and is unfortunately par for the course.

Previous reporting from the Republic has shown that the Arizona Department of Education has not spent even close to the full amount appropriated for program administration in prior years. The Republic has documented administrative shortcomings, and recounts some of this in the current article. If the Goldwater Institute wielded all-powerful “iron grip” influence, do we imagine that the Department would leave resources lying around and serious problems with program administration unaddressed? After all, what they want is for the program to work smoothly. Parents who sign an agreement with the state only to find the state fails to fund their accounts on time for instance tend to get angry. Bully for Jonathan Butcher for trying to go to bat for them.

In short I’m having a hard time spotting a conspiracy in this, either in motive, methods or outcomes.

 

 

 

 

 

 


BOOM! Arizona lawmakers pass broad ESA expansion

April 6, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Arizona lawmakers passed legislation tonight that will phase in near universal eligibility for ESA program. This will start with public school students in kindergarten and 1st grade, 6th grade and 9th grade in 2017-18, and then add grades from the on ramps (K,1,2 and 6,7 and 9-10 in year 2 and the next year K,1,2,3 and 6,7,8,9,10,11). The bill will also increase academic transparency and improve administration of the program.

Governor Doug Ducey’s stalwart support of expanding options proved crucial to this victory. Huge kudos to the bill sponsor Senator Lesko and Rep. Allen as well legislative leadership in both chambers and the members who took a tough vote in the face of determined opposition. Groups including the American Federation for Children, Americans for Prosperity Arizona, the Arizona Catholic Conference, the Arizona Chamber, the Center for Arizona Policy, Ed Choice, Excel in Ed and the Goldwater Institute all made vital contributions. Senator Worsley also deserves recognition as someone who played the role of honest broker in crafting a compromise that a winning coalition in each chamber supported. We’d all like to live in a world where there was no need to compromise, but that world is not the one we find ourselves in.

The Census Bureau recently announced that Maricopa County (Phoenix metro) as the fastest growing county in the nation-nudging out the Houston area. Enrollment growth is firing up again and the expanded ESA will give parents a broadening array of private educational choices to consider in what is already a robust public choice market. ESAs are an unfolding experiment in liberty, and future legislatures will debate further refinements and improvements, but this is the first big private choice victory of 2017, so…


Governor Brewer signs ESA expansion

June 21, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1363 yesterday, incorporating significant improvements into Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program into law. The ESA program will increase the minimum funding amount for participating students and will make eligible kindergarten students able to participate without prior public school attendance. Program eligibility remains otherwise unchanged (special needs and beginning this fall students attending D/F rated schools or districts, foster care children and the children of active duty military parents.)

Arizona had an incredibly difficult legislative session in 2013 so we are incredibly grateful to Governor Brewer and our stalwart legislative champions who got this bill over goal line.  Governor Brewer continues to build an impressive K-12 legacy and I remain hopeful that we will be able to pinpoint her administration as a turning point for public school performance in future NAEP data. Democratic Senator Barbara McGuire deserves special praise for doing right by the kids by offering a motion to reconsider on the bill after it had failed by a single vote on the Senate floor on the last day of session.  This action required real moral courage and it is clear that Senator McGuire has the quality in spades.

The lobby team led by Sydney Hay of the American Federation for Children and Deb Gullett of A+ Arizona have earned spots in the School Choice Hall of Fame, and the program continues to benefit from the outstanding work of the Goldwater Institute locally and the Friedman Foundation and HCREO nationally. In addition, Goldwater and IJ have been doing a great job in defending the program in court. This victory was a team effort and there are many more people both inside and outside of government who have helped to bring the program along. I am proud and thankful for all of you.

An Arizona Department of Education official recently told me that participating parents literally weep in meeting in expressing the depth of their gratitude for this program. This is a far greater reward than any thanks that I can offer. The ESA team has created a growing experiment in freedom-thank you all and keep up the good work!

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Administrative Bloat Study Successfully Replicated

March 26, 2012

Replication is the engine of scientific progress.  That progress feels especially good when it confirms one’s work.

A little more than a year ago I wrote an analysis for the Goldwater Institute along with Brian Kisida and Jonathan Mills on the growth in non-instructional professional staff at major universities — or administrative bloat.  Then last year the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) issued what appeared to be a rebuttal analysis in which they claimed that “public colleges and universities are operating more efficiently than before, and with appropriate numbers of staff.”

Recently the Pope Center examined both of these studies and then conducted their own new analysis.  They concluded:

the Pope Center analyzed the two studies and also roughly replicated both of them for the 16 campuses of the University of North Carolina system. While we do not claim to be the definitive voice on the matter, we discovered that one of the two studies—the one that said excessive staffing is a serious problem—seemed to be on the mark. The other contained some truth but also raised a few questions about its objectivity….

Our findings, which focused entirely on the UNC system, corroborated the Goldwater study for the most part. Between 1993 and 2010, total UNC system staffing indeed grew faster than enrollment: 51 percent against 42 percent; the number of total staff members per 100 students grew 5.9 percent….

The failure to mention the more recent upward trend in staffing [in the SHEEO report] was puzzling—certainly anybody who has looked at statistics professionally would be able to pick up the trend reversal and realize its significance. Such an important omission raises the possibility that the SHEEO researchers also “cherry-picked” 2001 as a starting point in order to show an overall decline in staffing, rather than the real long-term trend that staffing is rising. (There are no such concerns about the Goldwater study—the researchers chose 1993 because that was the first year for which this type IPEDS was available.)

Ahh.  Vindication is sweet.