Arizona is home to the nation’s most innovative idea in education since the #2 pencil: education savings accounts. The only program of its kind in the country, the savings accounts are bank accounts that parents use to create the most effective education they can for their child.
The state Department of Education deposits 90 percent of a child’s share of student funding from the state formula into an account, and parents use a debit card or online services such as PayPal to purchase textbooks, online classes, or therapy services or pay private school or college tuition.
And the results are life-changing.
Two words, in particular, changed Amanda Howard’s life. For six long years, her son, Nathan, was virtually silent. Unable to speak and struggling with other developmental challenges, Nathan was diagnosed with autism. Amanda enrolled him in a developmental preschool, followed by one year in a large kindergarten class at a public school. Yet Amanda found herself still searching for something—anything—that would draw Nathan out of his shell.
Amanda and Nathan Howard
And then one day in 2011, after enrolling Nathan in a private school and hiring a specialized tutor with funds from his education savings account, Amanda watched Nathan point to a picture in a book and ask, “What’s that?” Now it was Amanda’s turn to be speechless.
The account enabled her to enroll Nathan in a school that specializes in helping students with autism. She noticed a difference immediately, but it wasn’t until he asked an otherwise unimportant question that she truly recognized the benefit of education savings accounts.
More than 200,000 Arizona students—nearly 1 in 5—are eligible for education savings accounts in the 2013-14 school year, including children with special needs, students in failing schools, children of military parents, and children adopted from the state’s foster care system. The application period ends May 1. Here’s hoping 200,000 lives are changed this year by the nation’s most exciting educational option.
National School Choice Week: Official Website
This week the nation celebrates National School Choice Week, a national event designed to spread the word that every child deserves the chance at a great education. Each day this week the Goldwater Institute will share the story of a family that has used their freedom to choose the best educational setting for their child—from choosing a public school outside their home district to Arizona’s cutting-edge education savings accounts and beyond.
“Open enrollment” was the first school choice program in Arizona and more parents take advantage of this school choice avenue than any other available. Arizona is one of 17 states that allow children to enroll in a public school outside of their assigned school boundaries. Here’s how open enrollment works: if your child is assigned to a school in Tempe Union, for example, but you know of a school in Mesa Unified that would challenge your child, you could apply to the school in Mesa. Subject to space constraints, parents can choose from any public school in Arizona and send their children there at no cost.
Tara’s experience choosing a school for her children is typical of the process for most Arizona families that use open enrollment. “I learned a little bit about each school and looked up things online about them, and you look for the things that will be the best fit for your son or daughter,” she says.
“It wasn’t difficult at all. All the paperwork is online. I would go down to the school when open enrollment opened because it’s first-come, first-serve (once the paperwork is completed),” she explains. Once she completed the application for her school of choice and returned it to the school’s office, the school contacted her to let her know space was available.
Arizona is home to more than 2,000 traditional and charter public schools. The state’s open enrollment law gives every parent the chance to choose a great school for their child, no matter what school their child was assigned to attend.
The federal health care law included a provision asking all states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover all adults and children up to 133% of the federal poverty level. Right now, a little less than a fifth of the state’s population is given free healthcare through Medicaid; if the state expands Medicaid nearly a fourth of Arizona’s population would be covered.
This expansion would cost a lot of money we don’t have. Even with the federal government picking up most of the tab, estimates put the cost of expansion for Arizona at $125 million in 2016 alone. The yearly cost would rise as the federal share of the cost ratchets down to 90 percent. As the federal government’s financial condition worsens, states will likely have to pick up even more of the cost.
Governor Brewer wants a “circuit breaker” that will turn off the expanded program if the federal share ever fell below 80 percent. While the Supreme Court said states can’t be compelled to expand Medicaid, it’s an open question whether they can be compelled to continue an expansion once agreed to. If, in the future, the federal government insists that we keep expanded Medicaid coverage as a condition of keeping any Medicaid funds, we cannot count on our own state leaders to challenge that in court. After all, the Obama administration takes the position that Obamacare’s expanded coverage of children is a valid mandate, in clear contradiction to the Supreme Court’s decision. Still, state policymakers are doing nothing to challenge this position.
But there’s more at stake than dollars and cents. Expanding Medicaid means the state will participate in enforcing the health insurance mandate. After all, everybody is required to have health insurance, including Medicaid recipients, and the state will be put in a position of reporting when recipients drop off the Medicaid rolls. Legislators who value fiscal prudence, the health of the state’s future economy, and individual liberty should not support the expansion of Medicaid.
The Advisory Board Company: Where each state stands on ACA's Medicaid Expansion
Secret government union collective bargaining is the law in eleven states, including Alaska, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. In Arizona, at least eight major cities keep collective bargaining with government unions in the dark. The secrecy imposed by towns like Avondale, Chandler and Maricopa even expressly prohibits any city employee from sharing records of negotiations with the news media and their own city council members.
Why does this matter? First, elected officials and the public cannot meaningfully check and balance collective bargaining negotiations when the law keeps them blind, deaf and dumb during the process. Second, when secrecy in negotiations is combined with laws forcing Arizona cities to engage in collective bargaining—called “meet and confer” in Arizona—unions can exert tremendous political pressure on government officials; and both unions and government officials are able to hide from any meaningful oversight.
That leverage has a price. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has most recently reported that state and local government employees make nearly 43 percent more per hour on average in total compensation than private sector workers. Even when controlling for similar occupations and skills, a study commissioned by Citizens Against Government Waste found that Arizona pays its employees nearly 20 percent more per hour on average than comparable private sector employees.
The presence of government unions and the strength of collective bargaining laws explain a large portion of the pay gap observed between state and local government employees and private sector employees. Arizona could save $550 million every year in excessive pay to public employees simply by banning government union collective bargaining. But the next best reform is to shine a light on the backroom deal making.
Arizona lawmakers will have the opportunity to do just that this legislative session. Rep. Steve Montenegro has introduced a bill to make collective bargaining negotiations subject to open meetings and public records law. This is a terrific government transparency reform. Here’s hoping he’s successful.
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Employer Costs for Employee Compensation
Citizens Against Government Waste: Public Servants or Privileged Class
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In upholding the federal health care law’s individual mandate as a tax, Chief Justice John Roberts reiterated Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ promise that “[t]he power to tax is not the power to destroy while this Court sits.” With the IRS’ recent targeted investigations of tea parties, balanced budget advocates, and constitutional study groups across the nation, the Chief Justice may soon have the opportunity to keep his promise.Read More >>
Communities Putting Prevention to Work, or Communities Participating in Pork Wars?
Uncle Sam thinks he knows what’s right for your health, and he’s using your hard-earned money to teach you that lesson. Two years ago, the Goldwater Institute reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave Pima County, Arizona nearly $16 million through its Communities Putting Prevention to Work program to reduce obesity and promote healthy lifestyles. Our friends at Cause of Action, a watchdog organization that reports on government waste, have released a report detailing how Pima and other counties have been spending your tax money.Read More >>
Cheaters Revenge Meets the New World Order
What does poisoning a goldfish to get revenge on a cheating spouse have to do with the President’s power to make treaties? The constitutionally correct answer is: Nothing at all. Unfortunately, that’s not how the Obama Administration sees it. The Administration is claiming power to get into a domestic dispute under the authority of a chemical weapons treaty. And it is aggressively advancing the proposition that Congress’s power is essentially unlimited when based on the treaty power.Read More >>