February 14, 2017
(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
The Arizona House Education committee passed a four-year phase in of universal public school eligibility for the Empowerment Scholarship Account program, and a separate measure aimed at improving the administration of the program. Jonathan Butcher, Jason Bedrick and Sydney Hay all provided insightful testimony, as did a number of current ESA students and parents. One of the supporters of the bill noted in committee testimony last night that each expansion of choice in Arizona has been preceded by dire predictions of doom, but that in fact Arizona public school outcomes have improved rather than worsened. Quite right:
Arizona students have been leading NAEP cohort gains since 2009. The only two obvious things that stand out about Arizona K-12 in my mind have been larger than average budget cuts brought on my the Great Recession and parental choice. Arizona did change over academic standards during this period, but the national analysis of Hanushek and Loveless leads one with the unmistakable conclusion that this change had at most a modest amount to do with the improvement, likely less than that. I haven’t yet heard a plausible link between budget cuts and improving academic outcomes. In my book this leaves choice as, well:
Opponents recited their litany against draining money from the public schools, noted teacher shortages, etc. A “student surplus” however is another way to express a teacher shortage. Arizona school districts simply cannot hire enough teachers to serve their current level of enrollment, and it is worth noting that things would have been far more dire without the advent of choice in 1994. Without out the advent of charter schools in 1994 and private school choice in 1997, it is not clear just how the districts would have managed to cope with an enrollment increase far larger than moving from 737k to 914k between 1994 and 2012 (see figure above).
District supporters don’t like to admit that they need help in coping with enrollment growth- they’ve got it all covered, allegedly. Hmmm…
Arizonans have been rewarded for their embrace of pluralism in education thus far. Let’s see what happens next.
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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