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.
In 1998, few Americans had ever watched "reality" television. Even fewer had heard of Britney Spears. Yet today, they are embedded in the fabric of our popular culture. Likewise, few Arizonans knew theirs was the first state in the country to allow tax credits for donations to fund private school scholarships. Six years later, for over 50,000 Arizona taxpayers, the scholarship tax credit program is as much a holiday tradition as trips to the shopping mall.
In March, the Goldwater Institute released Race and Disability: Racial Bias in Arizona Special Education, which found that predominantly white Arizona school districts labeled significantly higher percentages of minority students as disabled than did minority school districts. Using 2000-2001 data, the study showed that school districts with predominantly white student bodies had Hispanic disability rates that were 47 percent higher than the Hispanic disability rates in predominantly minority districts. The study posited several possible explanations for this pattern, including perverse financial incentives, segregationist impulses, and desire on the part of districts to inflate standardized test results.
PHOENIX-In a policy brief released today by the Goldwater Institute, Children First America vice president Matthew Ladner identifies 40 Arizona school districts and charter schools with unusually high Hispanic special education rates. "This is further evidence of a disturbing pattern," Ladner says. "Nationwide, schools are mislabeling minority children as disabled and wrongly assigning them to special education programs."
Like America's horse of the moment, Seabiscuit, Arizona's students may be underdogs, but they are not underachievers. In recently released Stanford 9 results, students surpassed national averages. Even students who have yet to cross the finish line are still very much in the race. And much credit is due to involved parents, committed principals, and dedicated teachers for encouraging children to perform.
Call it the Sleeping Beauty Syndrome: a lonely schoolgirl raised on Disney movies dreams of a knight in shining armor who will enter her life in a dashing whirl and save her from boredom, poverty and solitude. For schoolgirls, it's a harmless fantasy. But when Arizona policymakers begin dreaming that a knight in biotech armor will save the state economy, the fantasy may be very costly.
When I saw House Speaker Jake Flake at a barbeque the other day, I asked him why he was supporting the Legislature's bid to spend $800 million on research labs at Arizona universities. He told me what any rancher knows: to get growth, you have to put a bull in the pen with the cows.
The editors of The Business Journal let readers down with their editorial "Naysayers won't help cause" (4/25/03), which condemned a forthcoming Goldwater Institute study they had neither seen, nor read. At best, commenting on unseen research is unprofessional. At worst, it is an abuse of public trust. Readers of The Journal should be able to expect, at a minimum, that the editors have earnestly reviewed the material under discussion.
At a time when every dollar counts, appropriation decisions must be based on fact, not fiction-no matter how noble the fiction. Arizona's taxpayers subsidize the estimated 6.8 percent of residents enrolled in the state's two-year and four-year colleges and universities. Taxpayers also subsidize the one-third of enrollees who are nonresidents. What is the return on this investment?
In 1975, Congress passed what is now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Since then, the number of students in special-education programs nationwide has grown 65 percent, to more than 6 million.
The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), designed to prevent the neglect and segregation of special education students, has resulted in the neglect and segregation of even larger student populations of minorities nationwide, including Arizona. The culprit: Perverse financial incentives to classify children as "learning disabled" when in fact they are "learning deficient," meaning they require remedial reading instruction, not special education programs.