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.
Arizona's school finance system is arguably one of the most complex in the United States. Over the years, both the Arizona Tax Research Association (ATRA) and the Goldwater Institute have made efforts to keep taxpayers and policy makers up to date or to introduce them to the major moving parts of this rather involved topic.
Fifteen years ago, the United States was declared "A Nation At Risk" by the National Commission on Excellence in Education. The alarm was sounded, but fifteen years later many feel that the outlook is still grim. In the recent Third International Mathematics and Science Study, American 12th graders ranked 19th out of 21 participating nations in mathematics; 16th out of 21 nations in science; 15th out of 16.
An easy way to make it into the papers in Arizona is to come up with a list ranking the state's standing in various indicators of well-being. Kids Count, the Children's Rights Council, the Corporation for Enterprise Development, all make news telling Arizonans how bad off they are compared with other states. However, if you look closely at the lists measuring child welfare, several remarkable features emerge. First, put side-by-side, the lists developed by groups across the spectrum are quite similar. The teenage birth rate, single parent families, high school dropouts, juvenile crime-observers on the left and right agree that these are things society should worry about.
The Goldwater Institute has long promoted reforms that will result in a more open, market-driven, decentralized approach to public education. Such an approach, of course, assumes a model for school finance that is dramatically different than what we have today.
Current research in education demonstrates that true reform of American's educational system requires a shift from the existing political/bureaucratic system to a highly decentralized system which provides parents choices among competing schools. Necessarily this new system requires that funding follow students to the schools of their choice. One method for providing parents choice in education is to provide them with a voucher for the educational funding of each of their children. Parents then use this voucher to enroll their children in the public or private (including sectarian private) schools of their choice.
In May 1991, Governor Fife Symington appointed a 42 member Task Force on Educational Reform to study the condition of kindergarten through 12th grade education in Arizona and to offer recommendations for improvements. This Task Force, along with a 17 member Subcommittee on Finance and Equalization, worked throughout the summer and fall and it issued its final report in December 1991.