Clearing the Air on Arizona Private Schools

Posted on March 10, 2005
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Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini wants to call a spade a spade, but instead of unearthing the facts, his analysis throws up a lot of dirt about Arizona private schools.

Montini likens the proposed "parental educational choice grant program" to "robbing the public schools." The reality is the typical public school district spends between $8,500 and $9,000 per student on average-twice the price of a typical Arizona private school. Letting parents use just half of what we'd spend anyway to educate children in a traditional public school would therefore yield a savings. For example, if just five percent of Arizona public school students, about 40,000, used K-8 grants worth $3,500 and high school grants worth $4,500, the total savings to the state and local school districts would amount to $32 million. (See A Guide to Understanding State Funding of Arizona Public School Students)

Montini also alleges that there are only "so many private schools available. Usually in the nicer parts of town. Which perhaps indicates who may benefit from this program."

The fact is there are approximately 400 private schools statewide, from Apache Junction to Yuma. Based on National Center for Educational Statistics data, in each of Arizona's 30 legislative districts, there are an average of 12 private schools, educating anywhere from 375 to 7,500 students. Absent private schools, taxpayers in each legislative district would have to pay an additional $20 million annually on average to educate those children in public schools.

Key findings from the Goldwater Institute's 2004 survey also show that among Arizona private schools:

- 89 percent offer financial aid 
- 93 percent require annual standardized testing
- 13 percent of staff is in administration, compared to 50 percent in public schools 
- Student/teacher ratios average 14:1, compared to 18:1 in public schools 
- 43 percent of Arizona private schools surveyed serve special needs students, and nearly half have room for more 
- Special needs students constitute an average 11 percent of total private school enrollment-the same average percentage of Arizona public school students enrolled in Individualized Education Programs

To learn more about admissions practices, enrollment, standardized testing practices, tuition, financial aid, school size, and growth potential of Arizona private schools, see the Goldwater Institute's first annual survey of Arizona private schools, Survey of Arizona Private Schools: Tuition, Testing and Curricula.

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