New Report Provides Roadmap for Education Reform

Posted on March 04, 2008 | Type: Press Release
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Phoenix--We've come a long way, baby! In just 14 years, Arizona has gone from having no school choice programs to leading the nation in parental choice. A new report released today by the Goldwater Institute takes stock of the existing school choice programs, makes recommendations to improve each one, and outlines new programs the state could create to provide even more opportunities for Arizona schoolchildren. 

School Choice in Arizona: A Review of Existing Programs and a Road Map for Future Reforms, written by Dr. Matthew Ladner, vice president for policy research at the Goldwater Institute, and Arwynn Mattix, a former policy analyst for the Goldwater Institute, also reviews the findings of some of the significant academic studies that have been done on Arizona's school choice programs.

School Choice in Arizona evaluates each of Arizona's school choice programs: open enrollment, charter schools, school vouchers for children in foster care and for children with disabilities, and tuition tax credits. While each of these programs has been successful, charter schools are the most wide-spread, educating over 100,000 students each year.

Two significant studies have been done on the academic effects of Arizona charter schools. The first, a 2001 report by Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby, showed that students in traditional public schools make faster academic progress when their schools face competition from charter schools. The second study showed that while charter school students often start further behind, they make annual achievement gains three points higher than non-charter peers.

"School choice benefits thousands of students--both those in charter schools and those in public schools that face competition from charter schools," said Dr. Ladner.

Statewide, the majority of top performing elementary, junior high, and high schools are charter schools. Given the number of charter schools relative to traditional public schools, these results are very significant, according to Dr. Ladner.

Despite these promising academic results, the rate of growth in charter schools has stalled. The report recommends allowing colleges and universities, and city mayors, to sponsor charter schools. These reforms have been tried in Michigan and Indiana, respectively, with great success.

In addition to these changes, other recommendations include:

  • Reducing the regulatory burden on charter schools, such as cumbersome Proposition 301 reporting requirements.
  • Repealing the Office of Civil Rights provision allowing schools under desegregation orders to veto the transfer of their students to other schools.
  • Disallowing any agreements between schools that they will not compete for students.
  • Aligning the contribution cut-off date to tuition organizations with the date people file tax returns, April 15.
  • Eliminating the scholarship funding cap on the corporate tuition tax credit and the tuition program for foster care children.
  • Changing the eligibility requirements for the Scholarships for Pupils with Disabilities to include students covered under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

To further unleash the beneficial force of competition in education, the report suggests lawmakers enact a universal tax credit. This would allow parents a tax credit for both a donation to a scholarship tuition organization and for the expenses of sending their own children to a private school. "A universal tax credit would be a powerful tool to help parents ensure their children get the best education available," said Dr. Ladner.

In tough budget years like those Arizona faces now, these slight changes in law could reduce pressure on the state budget for additional public school buildings and other capital costs. The more students that attend charter and private schools, the fewer dollars the state will be required to spend on new classrooms.

School Choice in Arizona: A Review of Existing Programs and a Road Map for Future Reforms is available online at www.goldwaterinstitute.org or by calling (602) 462-5000. The Goldwater Institute is a nonprofit public policy research and litigation organization whose work is made possible by the generosity of its supporters.

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