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Free Minds & Free Markets

The Fate of Arizona's Successful School Choice Initiative Hangs in a November Ballot Measure

Until we can get government entirely out of education, we’ll have to keep fighting to preserve and expand our ability to choose what’s right for our kids.

Pavel Horak/Westend 61 GmbH/NewscomPavel Horak/Westend 61 GmbH/NewscomIdeally, government would play the same role with regard to education as it does with food, clothing, and shelter: none, for most people, although perhaps a provider of last resort for those truly in need of even the bureaucratized, one-size-fits-none offerings in which the state specializes. But since we've grown accustomed to the idea that governments should mug us in order to fund an army of loyal employees and their fumbling attempts to hammer knowledge into our kids' heads, attempts to provide widely accessible alternatives to government schooling inevitably involve diverting some of those stolen funds. And diverting those funds requires political battles against entrenched allies of the state monopoly—such as that playing out in Arizona over an effort to expand a school voucher program.

Strictly speaking, whether or not Arizona's empowerment scholarship accounts (ESAs) are actually vouchers is a matter of debate. That's because, in 2009, Arizona's Supreme Court ruled that vouchers unconstitutionally channel public money to private and religious schools. So the state replaced the voucher program with a plan devised by the market-oriented Goldwater Institute. A 2013 report for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice (now knows as EdChoice) described the plan as one under which "the state awards eligible families 90 percent of their children's per-student public funding, based on a state formula. The Arizona Department of Education deposits the money in a private bank account that parents control with a use-restricted debit card. Because account spending is flexible, parents can buy textbooks, hire a tutor, enroll their children in online classes, pay private school tuition, or even save for future college expenses." Because funding goes to families instead of directly to private schools, ESAs aren't considered to be vouchers—and families gain a lot of freedom.

Not that it really matters if ESAs are vouchers or not. What matters is that they've allowed special-needs kids and those attending public schools awarded pitiful D or F ratings to escape institutions that don't work for them so they can seek education elsewhere.

Last year, lawmakers voted to expand eligibility for the empowerment scholarship accounts program to all students, with participation capped at around 30,000 kids. But opponents of school choice won a battle to put the program's expansion on the ballot as Proposition 305. They figured that a year in which government employees sold their public tantrum demanding more money—the #RedForEd strike—as a good deed for the tots was one in which they might get state residents to vote against freedom of choice, and against happiness with their children's education.

Yes, to vote against ESAs is to oppose improved prospects at being pleased with the way your kids are educated. In their report for the Friedman Foundation, authors Jonathan Butcher and Jason Bedrick found that "parents using an ESA are more satisfied with their children's current education compared with their previous public school... No parent responded as neutral or reported any level of dissatisfaction with the accounts."

Specifically, 43 percent reported some level of satisfaction ("somewhat satisfied," "satisfied," or "very satisfied") with the public schools their children attended before they started using an ESA. After switching over, 71 percent of surveyed parents said they were "very satisfied" with ESAs, 19 percent reported being "satisfied," and 10 percent said they were "somewhat satisfied."

That level of satisfaction with chosen educational approaches is no shocker, since parents can use their accounts for education pretty much as they please, shopping around until they find solutions that work for their families. About two-thirds of the surveyed families use ESAs to pay private school tuition, but a third use them for homeschool curriculum, while others hire tutors or pay for education therapy. That's the same sort of diversity we see when people choose their own food, clothing, and shelter instead of being forced to patronize state-provided cafeterias, outfitters, and barracks. When people are allowed to decide for themselves, they don't opt for one-size-fits-all approaches.

Expanded access to ESAs would grant more families the potential for greater control over and happiness with children's education that wealthier families already enjoy. People who currently have to pay taxes to support schools that serve their children poorly would be able to divert that money to education options that do the job properly without having to dig even deeper into their pockets for the funds.

As of last week, polling on Proposition 305 conducted by Suffolk University and the Arizona Republic shows a plurality of Arizona voters (41 percent) supporting expansion of the program, with 32 percent opposed and 27 percent undecided. That's a lot of undecided voters, but it gives the edge to those who want to expand the empowerment scholarship accounts program.

Does that mean advocates of bureaucratic monopolies overplayed their hand?

Actually, opponents of ESAs might win from sheer confusion. Or maybe they'll lose because of confusion. Either way, it's not clear that the ballot measure's fate will reflect voters' intentions.

"Every Democrat in the Legislature opposed the 2017 voucher expansion that Prop. 305 would keep in place or repeal. But 51 percent of Democratic voters surveyed for the poll said they would vote yes in support of the expansion," the Arizona Republic reports. "Meanwhile, Republicans pushed the voucher expansion at the Legislature. But only 29 percent of Republican voters polled indicated they would vote yes on Prop. 305."

That's probably because Proposition 305 was placed on the ballot by opponents of school choice, but a "yes" vote supports ESA expansion, while a "no" vote opposes it.

Understand? You do? Good for you—maybe you could explain how that works to Arizona voters.

This confusion comes courtesy of the people who turned education into a tax-funded government service. The best way to avoid political battles and baffling ballot questions is to take children's education out of the hands of government bureaucrats, of course, and turn it into something that you select based on how well it suits your family's needs.

Until that happens, we'll have battles like that being waged in Arizona over Proposition 305. We'll just have to hope that, however Arizonans vote, and whether or not their votes reflect their intentions, freedom of choice prevails for families and the children they want to see educated by institutions more responsive than government agencies.

Photo Credit: Pavel Horak/Westend 61 GmbH/Newscom

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  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    The people fighting to dismantle the public schools that have made America great, and oppose reason-based education in general, are mostly disaffected bigots, superstitious yahoos, and can't-keep-up malcontents.

  • Cy||

    Government is the problem, not the solution. If government were the solution, we'd all be speaking Russian.

  • sarcasmic||

    I went to a private Christian school until 5th grade, and was then dumped into public education.

    Yes, Bible was a class in the school. But contrary to what liberal retards believe, it wasn't the entire education. We learned science as well. Again, contrary to what liberal retards believe, creationism wasn't the entire education.

    So I went into public schools and it was like taking a step backwards. I didn't see anything new until high school. Seriously. My 5th grade education at a private school was equivalent to an 8th grade education in a government school. I imagine that if I'd gone to that private school through 8th grade I would have had an education that was superior to a high school diploma from a government school.

  • JesseAz||

    Arthur is too dumb to understand the scientific history of the church and how they were at the forefront of modern science. He heard the term dark ages and never inspected further.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    So it's your contention that parents' desire to have children get a better education than what's offered at their local public school is due to the lack of religious instruction in thise schools and the curriculum being so challenging their kids can't keep up?

    So when a school is graded D or F, it just means the material is hard, expectations are high, and there's no time spent teaching the Bible?

    Is that what your going with, seriously? Your comments, or more properly, your variations on the same comment, work in some contexts. This doesn't happen to be one of them. Even those who oppose school choice don't generally take that line of attack. Even they realize there are plenty of secular private schools and religion is not a driving force, or at least not a primary one, for most parents who want to give their kid other options.

  • JesseAz||

    The people fighting this are unions and administration that spends 55 percent of education dollars on non classroom needs, padding the salaries of administrative posts. The people who have d and f rated schools, doing a disservice to their students. Districts who have shrink in numbers of students for 10 years straight while costs have increased 7% a year.

    The ESA grants a family 5500 per student. Most private schools cost 6-7k a year. The public schools get 8500 a year per student. So even though they get 2k more than private schools per student, their achievements in scholastics are way worse.

    Liberals want uneducated idiots, it's the only way socialism works. They want people trained in victim based activism, such as the Latino Studies hosted by La Raza or MecHa that teach students nothing.

    You're a dimwit Arthur. An authoritarian retard.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Just ignore him. He's really truly a one note troll.

  • JesseAz||

    Agreed. But this article is in regards to something that effects my kids. Extra aggravating.

  • Rossami||

    re: " the public schools that made America great"

    That's either brilliant parody or a stunning display of ignorance about the history of public education in the US.

  • Mr. Dyslexic||

    You are the most redundant motherfucker here. Please go choke on a bag of dicks.

  • DarrenM||

    It's too bad you care more for preserving government jobs than educating children.

  • markm23||

    To paraphrase George Orwell, opponents of school choice are objectively pro child abuse.

  • aajax||

    "Reason-based" commenting would be nice, too.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    But since we've grown accustomed to the idea that governments should mug us in order to fund an army of loyal employees and their fumbling attempts to hammer knowledge into our kids' heads...

    Well, now I have the vapors.

  • Longtobefree||

    Are your pearls still in the pawn shop?

  • Longtobefree||

    Public funding of basic education does not require that the education come from government employees.

  • JesseAz||

    The ESA started a few years ago and only allowed those with special needs or d or f rated schools to participate. Studies have shown the students who participated in the ESA had better gains than those who remained in their public schools. For this teachers are furious.

  • chipper me timbers||

    The same is true for so-called "universal healthcare".

  • Robert||

    What's that grey thing in the foreground? Looks like it's standing w disk-ish things facing opposite ways attached to the top.

  • JesseAz||

    Something that the author doesn't mention directly. To add to the confusion, those who support the expanded ESA are using a similar confusion trick to counter the ESA opponents. They have signs around down in the same color and font as red for Ed, the teacher strike movement last year. If teachers union is going to play duty by making a yes vote required to keep the ESA expansion, the pro ESA committee will play dirty too.

  • JFree||

    So - keep your govt hands off my govt voucher money????

    This school choice thing is moving in the wrong direction. It is locking the wrong things in place - it simply replaces passive voting with passive spending.

    What we need to do is get rid of consolidated districts and return to the model that used to be prevalent. Individual schools managed as their own governance entities. Consolidating districts turned roughly 130,000 different governance entities into roughly 15,000. Those 130,000 entities had boards run by mostly volunteers. eg parents with young kids had the self-interest to be knowledgeable about decisions made by that elementary school - and didn't also have professional know-how about other neighborhood elementary schools or high schools. The kidless could also get involved to keep the prop tax base and capital spending in synch with property values. Where decentralization produces smaller-scale decisions in line with the knowledge normal people alread have.

    You can still have competition WITHIN THE CLASSROOMS. Where a Montessori class is right next to a 'classical/science' class right next to a 'religious' one - or in the same classroom at different times of day. Teacher/materials/curriculum (operating expenditures) are not the same thing as facilities/infrastructure (capital/bond). Stop pretending they are.

  • aajax||

    Can you expand on how this competition within the classrooms would work? How would the competing Teacher/materials/curricula come into being, for instance?

  • aajax||

    How did they arrive at the 90% figure for the rebate, I wonder. Is this really the marginal cost of adding a student to the school? It seems somewhat high to me, considering all the overhead in the schools.

  • guidokrei||

    I've discovered much news from above-mentioned article. The question of a education is actual all-time. At https://paidpaper.net/edusson/ I read the reviews about the government decisions. Especially, government agencies are becoming important phenomenal for the students.

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