Too often, the traditional public-school model fails students and teachers. Charter schools, scholarship tax credits, and merit pay are giving students a better education and teachers a better career.
The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor is considered one on the world's best research institutions, ranking alongside Harvard University and Stanford University.
In 1965, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (U-M) received 70 percent of its funding in appropriations from the state of Michigan. By 2003, U-M had reduced its dependence on the state to just 10 percent of total revenue. At the same time, U-M remained a top 25 institution according to the University of Florida's Top American Research Universities and U.S. News & World Report's annual rankings. U-M also tops Wall Street rankings, becoming the first public university to have its credit rating raised to an Aa1 ranking and its bonds trading at Aaa levels. Today, Michigan's flagship university is considered "Silicon Valley East" and has become a model for other large, public research institutions.
There's an interesting phenomenon taking place at a west Phoenix elementary school.
It's called the Pride Program, and it's giving sixth-graders challenging courses in reading, writing and arithmetic.
School administrators are implementing the back-to-basics program to lure students to Cartwright Elementary, which has lost more than 1,200 students to area charter and private schools.
Martha Garcia, president of the school's governing board, says the school is "offering so much more now than before that we can attract some of those students we lost."
It may be lonely at the top, but when it comes to education funding, Arizona has plenty of company at the bottom. Or so they say. At last count, more than half a dozen states claimed to be 49th in education funding:
"The political reality is that (Florida) lawmakers are cheap and entirely too satisfied with education spending that ranks 49th of the 50 states." St. Petersburg Times editorial, Oct. 15, 2004.
"Illinois ranks 49th in the nation in the proportion of state school funding it provides, caucus officials said." Chicago Tribune, Aug. 13, 2004.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Milton Friedman's landmark proposal for a student-funded education system as it first appeared in the book Economics and the Public Interest. Earlier this month, the Arizona senate put this plan into legislation that could become the nation's first universal voucher program. It would be a fitting tribute.
Unfortunately, a veto is expected.
Kyrene Elementary School District opened its doors last week at every campus and invited prospective customers inside.
At C.I. Waggoner Elementary School in Tempe, colorful posters in the multipurpose room showed off the school's standardized test scores, while teachers in every classroom displayed student projects and fielded questions from a steady stream of guests.
Two years ago, Angela Sartain watched her oldest son, Pierce, a graduate of half-day kindergarten, cry over his first-grade homework. Now, her youngest son, Wyatt, is in full-day kindergarten and already reading at a first-grade level at Marana's Desert Winds Elementary School.
Though experts disagree on the benefits of full-day kindergarten, Sartain believes it is making the difference for Wyatt, who is getting twice as much instructional time as Pierce did.
The Rodel Foundation says that if Arizona spent $1.7 billion a year on particular programs, "it is reasonable to expect student performance to double within 10 years."
That's an audacious claim. It's also, as it turns out, a claim utterly without foundation.
The Siteks were not trying to hide their children from the big, bad world when they enrolled them in a private sectarian school.
"I am a proponent of a strong public education," said Sharon Sitek of Tempe. "Societies that are successful must have a strong public education system."