Dear Senator McGuire,
I’m sure you’d agree Arizona needs a well-educated work force, especially since experts predict that by 2018, 61% of Arizona’s jobs will need at least a college degree.[i] Of course, there will also be a need for those with at least a high school diploma and trade skills. Arizona simply can’t attract new business without a robust public education system, one that affords all children equal opportunity to succeed.
Your deciding vote for the expansion of vouchers[ii] in the last legislative session was not supportive of Arizona’s public education system, in which over 85 percent of our children are still enrolled. Neither will be the legislation to further expand those vouchers in this session[iii] or, SB 1048[iv]. Unfortunately, this bill is already being fast-tracked through the legislature to further expand companies eligible for corporate student tuition organizations. In some cases, the very companies[v] some Arizona legislators allegedly have financial interests in. It concerns me that many of these bills such as empowerment scholarship accounts (parental choice scholarships[vi] or vouchers) don’t even originate in our legislature. Rather, they are crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council [ALEC][vii] to export to state legislatures through its State Policy Network[viii]. The Goldwater Institute[ix] represents Arizona in this network.
As currently proving out in numerous states across the country, these ALEC-driven school choice options are not turning out to be the “rising tide that lifts all boats.” Rather, credible analysis has shown charter schools are not producing overall better results than their TPS counterparts.[x] A 2013 Stanford study also reported that Arizona students who attended charters versus a TPS experienced a loss in reading learning equivalent to 22 school days.[xi] This, 20 years after the start of the charter movement and even though special needs and English language learners continue to be underrepresented in charter schools.[xii]
For those who say parents deserve the choice of where to send their children to school I say that parents shouldn’t have to make a choice. Every public school should be a great school. But, that won’t happen by diverting funding from TPS to charters, (in Arizona, 20 percent of which, including BASIS[xiii], are run by for-profit organizations[xiv]), or private schools. In rural towns like Oracle and San Manuel, the TPS aren’t just places where children get educated, they are also the hub of the community. As you grew up in the Copper Corridor, I know you “get” this.
The Oracle School District lost our override election in 2013, by only 60 votes. Not only did this election cost us $30K to hold, it translates into a $145K loss for this year school year, double that next year, and all $470K by 2016/17. If we don’t get the override approved this November, it will be disastrous for our students. We already discontinued music and art and that’s probably just the beginning. With essentially no additional funding to meet the Common Core mandate and the cuts we’ve experienced over the past five years, the situation is dire.
That is why I will continue to advocate for on behalf of the children in my school district and will encourage their parents and others to do the same. As we follow this legislative session, I look forward to telling our constituents about the great things you will do to support public education.
Linda M. Thomas