Jonathan Butcher debates the Arizona Education Association on ESAs

January 16, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

GI’s Butcher debated Andrew Morrill, President of the Arizona Education Association on Education Savings Accounts. Check it out.


NYT on Clint Bolick

December 26, 2011

 (Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The New York Times has a very nice feature on Clint and the GI litigation team.  That scorpion may have to hunt and peck to type, but the sting packs a wallop!


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.


Transition to the Foundation for Excellence in Education

March 4, 2011

 (Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I will be making a transition from full-time staff to a Senior Fellow with the Goldwater Institute after today, and joining the staff of the Foundation for Excellence in Education on Monday.  I am thrilled about joining Team Jeb, and plan to help GI find a great replacement to carry on our vital work. I will continue to be based in Arizona.

I am especially proud of the work that we did with our allies to improve the transparency in Arizona schools.  A large bipartisan majority of the Arizona legislature took action to replace an obviously inflated version of a national norm referenced exam.  Two years later, a large majority decided to replace fuzzy labels for public school achievement like “performing plus” and “excelling” with letter grades A-F based on the Florida formula.

Much work remains to be done, but I honestly think that we are on the right track for some significant improvement in Arizona public schools.

Arizona’s parental choice coalition has been busy as well. In the past few years, our coalition has taken action to improve the transparency, financial accountability and size of the scholarship tax credit program.  We lost our special needs voucher program in the Arizona Supreme Court, but have worked this session to replace the program with what we hope will be the nation’s first system of public contributions to Education Savings Accounts.

Since 1994, school choice programs in Arizona have mostly taken the edge off of an enormous amount of public school enrollment growth. The enrollment growth has stopped, and may prove absent for some time. Interesting and challenging days lie ahead for parental choice in Arizona.

Major elements of the Florida model are advancing this year. Here in my neighborhood out west, lawmakers have introduced reforms based upon the Florida experience in Arizona, Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. The PISA exam reveals just how vast our K-12 problems have become but progress is not only necessary but possible.

I want to thank Darcy, the Goldwater Institute board of directors, staff, donors and allies for what has been one hellacious run. The best is yet to come for GI.  While it is sad for me to leave today, it is very exciting for me to join Team Jeb.


Reason TV for School Choice Week Part Deux

January 27, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

My residual self image is having a hard time looking at this guy with gray hair…


Panic on the Streets of Florida!

December 16, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Florida governor-elect Rick Scott is making it clear that he is deadly serious about the next wave of Florida K-12 reform.  Worrying about tenure reform is soooo 5 months ago, because Governor-elect Scott mentioned the possibility of letting parents control education funding through Education Savings Accounts. The Goldwater Institute study cited in the paper will be coming out in the not-so-distant-future.

Reactionaries have already started howling.  Mother Jones hates the idea, and started spouting conspiracy theories interrupted only by occasional name-calling. Why wait to actually read a plan when you can go ahead and start complaining about it in advance? Some of the Florida papers have been almost as silly, having apparently learned nothing from having opposed Governor Bush’s reforms only to watch with sheepish silence as Florida shot up the NAEP ranks.

Someone even placed a call to Little Ramona, who as usual these days sings straight out of the AFT hymnal.

This particular rant takes the cake so far. Wow, I mean W*O*W. Check it out:

After a half century of broadening the wealth gap and decimating the middle class, there are many people who would prefer a return to near feudal conditions, when religion, educational disadvantages and abject poverty were used to more easily control the lower classes. A massive expansion in vouchers would be a giant step in that direction and it should be no surprise that billionaire members of the ruling class (like Scott) are lending their support.

When does my “ruling class” membership card arrive in the mail?  I mean really, feudalism gets such a bum rap these days. We don’t need feudalism-we need Neo-Feudalism! You know, the Dead-Hand-of-Clericalism grasps the Invisible-Hand-of-the-Market around the neck of the working class and squeezes!

Oi vey

Stay tuned for the study…I’m afraid the reality will seem terribly reasonable in comparison to the fever dreams of opponents.


Governor Daniels vs. Bloat

August 31, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

From the Indy Star:

Daniels cited a national study released a few weeks ago by the Goldwater Institute in Arizona. It found the number of full-time administrators for every 100 students at 189 top U.S. universities had increased by 39 percent from 1993 to 2007.

The study blamed the administrative bloat on subsidies from federal and state governments and suggested that reducing subsidies would force schools to operate more efficiently.

“The role of trustee has never been so critical as it is today,” Daniels said. “But I don’t want to see you at the Statehouse asking for more money.

“Please stay back at the school and find ways to be more efficient with those dollars.”