Cross-posted from SkyIslandScriber.com
The prize was awarded this morning by your Scriber. The headline was on the lead front page article in the paper version of the Daily Star. The on-line version had a similar title: Arizona spending in classrooms declines year over year. Both come from the report by Howard Fischer in the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required): K–12 classroom spending reaches all-time low. All those headlines are correct. And all are misleading.
The short of it is that schools have two pots of money. One pot goes to cover costs of classroom instruction. The other pot goes to cover fixed costs of running a school: bus maintenance, physical facility upkeep, social workers, counselors, and, yes, administrators responsible for keeping all that from coming apart. If you cut the school’s budget, or let it functionally be cut by not keeping up with inflation, then the fixed costs consume a larger part of the budget and the classroom costs take a hit.
To be fair, Fischer explained this and more in his report. For example, he cites data showing that AZ schools are not particularly inefficient when compared to national averages. But that is not the take-away message from the headlines.
My beef is with the folks who write the headlines that are only partly correct. The voucher vultures are bound to swoop down to pick at the carcass of public schools while screeching about supposed inefficiencies and citing the misleading headlines.
This morning, 3/2/2017 a guest opinion piece in the Arizona Daily Star contained some really objectionable statements. Using words to set up justification for a Constitutionally questionable use of public funds draws in false premises. (VOUCHERS) Diverting state funds to private, and private “church” schools under the guise of parental choice and a matter of social justice is just plain wrong. Proper funding of “real public education” suffers under the system of state financial gifts to NON public schools.
Unless the people of Arizona want even more tax burden to support all the different options for education and a Constitutional Amendment adopted to allow such payments no excuse justifies spending tax dollars in a made up system of “public” education.
Right from the start the writer, president of St. Augustine Catholic High School, sets up local district schools as “failing public schools”. Of course under the present regime in Phoenix with so many fingers in the fiscal pot education lacks and as a result local governing boards are not able to provide for every need. This is compounded by the additional mandates required of local district schools forced on the school boards to fund.
The author correctly identifies current financial resources allowed to be diverted to private schools, and labels the benefits as going to students from economically disadvantaged areas. Not quite the facts as most of the benefits flow to children of affluent families who can actually afford the various enrollment costs including transportation.
I salute parents meeting their responsibility for their children’s education as well as congratulate the tremendous educational opportunities offered by all schools affiliated with churches. Especially the Catholic Church over the years leading the efforts for education on all levels. The pride we have in a free country and school choice should not be abused by taking away from children enrolled in public schools.
In street language, can the crap and ***allow only the portion of property taxes going to district schools from households choosing alternative education options to be diverted to schools where the children are enrolled.*** Any Legislators willing to propose that?
For the disadvantaged, vouchers are a matter of social justice
By Dave Keller
SPECIAL TO THE ARIZONA DAILY STAR
‘School choice is the social justice issue of the 21st century.’
The first time I heard these words several years ago was not from a politician, but from Howard Fuller, a pioneer in the school choice movement.
Dr. Fuller, then a professor at Marquette University, was addressing a group of educators at the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Fuller contended that school choice programs enable lower-income parents to choose the school best suited for their children so those children can achieve to the best of their ability. Every child is different and each child deserves the best environment for success in school, be that a public school, a charter or a private school.
The state of Arizona, after successful implementation of tuition tax credits that provide families an opportunity to choose the best educational option for their child, has introduced Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, or ESA s. These scholarships currently allow parents of students from failing public schools, children of military families, and students with disabilities who switch from a public to a private school to receive assistance to cover a portion of the tuition. Like the corporate tax credit funds, some of the students taking advantage of the ESAs are coming from economically disadvantaged areas. The proposed expansion of the Empowerment Scholarship Account Program will gradually expand eligibility for this program over a period of years to include all families.
Critics of the plan cite the proposed savings to the state as false, and that more attention should be paid to improving, and funding, public schools. As a Catholic school educator, I know most, if not all, of my colleagues would agree that the state’s public schools should receive more help. We do not exist to replace public schools, but to provide a service to families who simply seek an alternative option for their children.
The reality is private schools in Arizona can only serve a fraction of the entire student population. However, that said, it doesn’t mean we are as selective in whom we take, as some would assume. Except for those with the most severe needs, requiring resources our schools cannot afford to educate effectively, Catholic school student populations are very diversified and reflective of our communities.
In fact, last year at my high school, which draws students from over 20 ZIP codes, many of the students are from families eligible for the free and reduced lunch program, and more than half of these students came from families where no one in the immediate family ever graduated from college. Yet despite this, 100 percent of our seniors last year graduated and 100 percent were accepted into the college of their choice. We are providing a transformational experience for those students, realizing what Dr. Fuller would consider to be a measure of true social justice.
The issue of school choice shouldn’t be a political football, but a matter of social justice, especially concerning the economically disadvantaged. The goal should not be to support one form of education over another, but effective education that meets the diverse needs of families in our state.
Parents should, therefore, be afforded the opportunity to select which school best fits the needs of their children. This can only happen with support of parental choice options that make a Catholic education available, accessible, and affordable for all students.
We can be proud that the Arizona is considering making it possible for every parent in the state to choose what is best for their child.
Dave Keller is president of St. Augustine Catholic High School in Tucson, Arizona. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org