Education Reform

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.

<p>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. </p>

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."

Re: the Jan. 30 column "New school finance report leaves a haze of confusion."

The article is a haze of confusion itself. It says the Goldwater and Friedman report on expenditures is "misleading," largely because it shows debt refinancing and capital costs as expenditures.

It makes no more sense to exclude those figures from the education budget than it would to exclude the cost of firetrucks from the fire department's budget.

The Arizona Republic of Jan. 30 praised a vision for education reform called "Lead With Five," the child of the Rodel Foundation. The Republic's coverage included a front-page story, a condensed version of the report and an editorial in Viewpoints.

The report concludes, "If all the programs and initiatives proposed in this report were undertaken, it would be reasonable to expect student performance to double within 10 years."

Such a dramatic improvement in student performance may sound too good to be true. Perhaps because it would be.

PHOENIX-In a report released today on early education programs, Goldwater Institute president Darcy Olsen shows that U.S. elementary students outperform their international peers in reading, math, and science. The findings call into question the advisability of Arizona Governor Napolitano's plans to increase government involvement in early education, including kindergarten.

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