Recently, Matthew Ladner, Senior Advisor, Policy and Research for the Foundation for Excellence, posted as a guest on a conservative blog: Ladner’s attack on a parent of a 3rd grader. Here’s my response:
Matt, Matt, Matt, look at you, calling a parent of a 3rd grader your opponent. Really? In both your current capacity and your previous positions at the Goldwater Institute and the Alliance for School Choice, you’ve proven yourself a leading advocate for school choice and charter schools. Makes this back and forth seem a little like a David and Goliath match up doesn’t it? I’d like to suggest that instead of the Copa Cabana, perhaps you should be singing ole blue eyes’ “I’ve got you under my skin?”
I get it. For you and yours to win, district schools have to lose. The really unfortunate part of this argument is that district schools are where over 80 percent of Arizona’s K-12 students go to school–almost one million of them. No doubt some of them continue to attend their neighborhood district school because socio-economic factors keep them from exercising their school choice options, but for most, it’s because their district school is the place they want to be; yes, their first choice.
You mention that the majority of the 3,000 students participating in the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account program are children with disabilities. That’s not surprising in that this voucher program was originally started under the guise of serving disabled students. I say “guise” because that was just the start as proven by the Legislature’s expansion of eligibility every year since the program’s inception in 2011. Fortunately, public outcry has kept the Legislature from fully expanding the voucher program. Reasons for opposition include the lack of transparency and accountability for the taxpayer dollars siphoned off to private and parochial schools and, the fact that return on investment cannot be adequately assessed.
Your narrative that public school advocates are focused more on funding than improvement is totally false, as is your position that the state does not have the money to dedicate more to education. The state has only one way to raise revenue and that is through taxation. State lawmakers can choose to raise revenue for education or give it away in the form of corporate tax breaks. The voters in turn, can choose to elect candidates who best represent their priorities or, they can choose not to participate. Thus far, the majority of Arizona voters have voted for candidates that favor corporate tax breaks over public education. As the exit polls from the Prop 123 elections showed though, 75 percent of voters favor spending more money on public education, so I’m confident the tide is turning.
You also make the allegation that district schools can pick which students they accept through open enrollment. This is misleading at best. Districts do have some control over the acceptance of open enrollees, but only when the locally elected school board has predetermined space-based caps. You and I both know it is more the case that charter schools manage to exclude certain students or, force them out after the 100th day so the charter keeps the per-student funding, and sends the student back to the district school with no accompanying funding. And yes, a lack of equity amongst districts is still a problem to be solved and one the Governor’s Classrooms First Council is looking at as it tries to determine how to rework Arizona’s school funding formula.
You are badly mistaken that district public education proponents desire a near monopoly of district schools. Unlike you, we live in the real world, and understand today’s education dynamics. What we do want is for there to be a level playing field with full transparency and accountability for all use of taxpayer dollars and we want the focus of funding and support to be first on the 80 percent of students attending district schools versus the 20 percent at charters or private schools.
In the end, the ongoing argument between charters and district schools serves no one but the Legislature who, by keeping us fighting for the same scraps, doesn’t have to serve up a better meal. I imagine sometimes, what it would be like if we could all just work together for all the students we serve. To end with one more song title, “What a wonderful world it would be. “