Arizona students are returning to school or enrolling for the first time, providing an opportunity to take note of the expanding revolution in American education: the ability of parents to choose the best school for their children.
Parents have a growing opportunity to pick the education setting most closely aligned with the individual needs of their child, and public schools face a growing level of competition for students. Nearly a fourth of K-12 students nationwide are not attending their neighborhood public schools, opting instead for an array of public and private options.
State legislatures have established seven school-voucher programs and six education tax-credit programs since 1990. State governments created two of these programs this year and expanded five existing programs.
These programs increase the access for parents to choose private schooling for their children.
In addition, unknown numbers of children attend public schools of choice through interdistrict and intradistrict choice and/or magnet schools.
By the mid-1990s, 1.2 million children were attending these schools. Today, approximately 1 million children now attend charter schools, and as many as 2 million students are home-schooled.
Florida has been a leading state in expanding school-choice options. Through the creation of three statewide choice programs - A+ Scholarships for children in failing schools (800 students); McKay Scholarships for children with disabilities (18,000 students); and tax-credit scholarships for low-income children (15,000 students) - Florida has led the way in the creation of school choice.
The Miami-Dade public school system recently announced its intention to create new magnet-school options as a response to the competition.
"We cannot be ostriches anymore with our heads in the sand," a district official told the Miami Herald.
"They either get on board with the changing landscape of public education, or they're going to be left behind, with no students and no teachers," a Miami teacher union official stated.
Harvard, Stanford and University of Wisconsin scholars have established that children using choice programs score higher on achievement tests. The evidence concerning children remaining in their public schools is even more compelling.
Harvard economist Caroline Minter Hoxby studied Arizona public elementary school test scores and found that those schools facing high levels of competition from charter schools made gains in fourth-grade reading four times as large as the other schools.
While choice reform continues to advance, the issue has unfortunately become embroiled in a political controversy in Arizona.
Last session, the Arizona Legislature passed and Gov. Janet Napolitano agreed to sign - and then vetoed - a significant expansion in school choice for low-income parents in the form of a tax credit for corporations providing scholarships to students to attend independent schools.
While the veto has become a heated dispute, it is important to recognize that the ultimate winners from the resolution will be thousands of Arizona children who will have the opportunity to attend a school best matching their needs as chosen by the parents.
Arizona badly needs this legislation and more like it, especially in areas where the need for options is most urgent.
High-performing public and charter schools often have years-long waiting lists, while nearby independent schools have empty seats. Despite the progress made toward choice in Arizona, desperate parents often face terrible difficulty in finding a seat for the child when a change is needed. Upper-income people fled poorly performing public schools decades ago by exercising the most common form of school choice: buying a home in the suburbs.
Giving the children of low-income families a similar chance to have their parents choose a school that serves their needs spurs public school reform and equality of opportunity, one of the few things upon which all Arizonans genuinely agree.
This piece originally appeared in the Arizona Republic , August 19, 2005. The writer is director of state projects for the Alliance for School Choice and a senior fellow for the Goldwater Institute.
Last week, Chandler issued a directive that would have criminalized nursing in public. Following public outcry, the city set aside the directive and formed a task force to "study" the issue.
I'm all for studying issues, but a little common sense may be all that's needed here. Infants need nourishment every few hours. Unless we want to confine nursing mothers to their homes, infants will occasionally have to eat in public.
If this makes someone uncomfortable, looking away is a civil solution. The alternative is to turn nursing moms into criminals or segregate them to public restrooms (wonderful places to eat, no doubt).
Most mothers are discreet. To quote Leah Landrum Taylor (D-16), "I think if everybody just reflects a little bit... they probably can say that they've never witnessed a mother with a raincoat on, opening it wide open, and then going and trying to feed and nurse her child... There is a blanket... to provide a sense of comfort and privacy." A little common sense in applying the state's indecent exposure laws would go a long way.
A mother should not need a permission slip from government to feed her baby. Instead of prosecuting mothers, Chandler might consider an alternative resolution: "Mothers Welcome Here."
U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, and U.S. Reps. John Shadegg and Jeff Flake, were among the 12 federal lawmakers who put principle above short-term political gain and voted against the recently passed transportation bill.
This $286 billion bill divvied up the money from the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax we all pay when we fill up. What's so bad about that?
The gas tax originated in the 1950's to fund construction of the interstate highway system. The system has long been completed, but the gas tax, as taxes usually do, lives on.
Now it funds items like tourism promotion in Rutherford County, Tenn., bike paths in Delta Ponds, Ore., and intermodal transportation at the Bronx Zoo.
The collection and administration of the gas tax is wretched public policy. What possible rationale is there for us to send our tax money to Washington rather than just remit and spend it locally?
Is it really possible that Washington bureaucrats know how best to spend our transportation dollars? Money sent to Washington suffers shrinkage just from being handled by bureaucrats, and the distribution of these funds is highly politicized.
Want proof? The current bill contains an astounding 6,361 "earmarks" or special projects requested by lawmakers. President Ronald Reagan vetoed the 1987 highway bill because it had 152 pork-barrel earmarks.
Watchdog groups estimate that 40 percent of the gas tax proceeds are wasted on special projects of little benefit to the car and truck drivers who pay the tax. We would be far better off raising and spending the money locally on our real transportation needs.
The federal gas tax is nothing but an expensive slush fund for a Congress unable to control itself. Let's get rid of it. Meanwhile, thanks to Arizona's Fab Four, who stood tall and voted no.
This appeared as a full-length opinion-editorial in the East Valley Tribune Sunday, August 7, 2005.
The state legislature and governor are wrangling over proposed funding increases for English Language Learners ranging from an additional $300 to $1,300 per pupil.
To be sure, there is a problem with the ELL system. Four out of five ELL sophomores are failing reading, writing, and math, despite the fact that the AIMS test has become easier to pass in each of the five past years.
Absent systemic change, more funding is unlikely to yield better results.
A Texas program for students sharing similar socio-economic backgrounds with Arizona ELL students is promising. In 1998, every student in San Antonio's Edgewood district became eligible to receive a private school scholarship through the HORIZON program.
From 1998 to 2002, Stanford-9 test scores of HORIZON scholarship students improved an average of five percentile points in reading, five percentile points in language, and seven points in math each year.
Almost as impressive as those achievement gains is the fact that the scholarship amounts, up to $4,000 each, were about half of what Edgewood public schools were spending per student.
Imagine comparable gains for Arizona ELL students. Measures that let parents find the right education setting for their children, such as a voucher for ELL students, can ensure that money spent on ELL programs achieves the goal of providing a quality education.
-Robert Robb: "GOP must keep fighting on English-learner issue"
-Study: Choice, Change & Progress: School Choice and the Hispanic Education Crisis
-Study: A Guide to Understanding State Funding of Arizona Public School Students
Recent Facebook Activity
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 >>
In the Economic Horserace, Government is a Terrible Gambler
Recently the very fashionable turned out to bet on their favorites in the Kentucky Derby. But betting on horseraces – economic horseraces – has been all the rage in legislatures across the country for decades. Unfortunately, legislators are more like problem gamblers than successful high-dollar poker stars.Read More >>