After I started this post, it was somewhat overcome by events. The preamble below gives the latest and then I dive into my original thoughts.
As of this posting, the AZ Senate had voted for the full expansion of vouchers and the House was on the cusp of doing the same. To all those who voted against our kids, our system of public education, and the foundation of our democracy, just know that public district school parents and advocates will not forget your choice to be on the wrong side of this issue. November 2018 is right around the corner and despite all the dark money corporate profiteers have poured into this fight, we each still have our vote and will use it wisely!
In a futile effort this morning to shift the hearts and minds of my LD11 legislators, I sent the following email to Senator Steve Smith and Representatives Vince Leach and Mark Finchem.
I implore you to reconsider your position on the full expansion of vouchers. There is plenty of evidence that they do not produce better results, they do not provide any info on return on investment, they will cost the state general fund more than student attendance at district schools, and 75% of ESAs are used by parents who could have sent their kids to the private schools without taxpayer help. Additionally, as a taxpayer, I object to my tax dollars being siphoned off to private and parochial schools without any information available on return on investment. PLEASE do the right thing and vote NO!
I appreciate Representative Finchem’s reply (his was the only), but have some real problems with much of his response, especially this part:
Thank you for writing to share your thoughts. I think we can all agree that we want to see a quality education for as many children as possible. What I find troublesome is the call for an overwhelming number of parents -as high as 70% according to some polls- who are demanding choices in education. The top reasons for these demands include such feedback as:
* Objectionable content taught ranging from sex ed to Islamic studies
* Poor quality instruction from teachers bent on injecting political ideology into their classrooms
* School district level insistence on adopting the Common Core Standards package
Firstly, I’m wondering if he is conflating his 70 percent statistic. The 70 percentile statistic I know is the Dec 2016 poll that showed 77 percent of Arizona voters believe we need to better fund our public schools. The poll also revealed that 61 percent of voters are willing to pay more in taxes to do that.
Again, not sure where he is getting his facts, but Arizona requires board and parental approval for district schools to teach sex ed, so parents have control of whether this is taught to their children. As for his reference to “poor quality instruction from teachers bent on injecting political ideology into their classroom”, I would love to see his data and learn where it is coming from. I’m sure there are parents who feel this way (Finchem would no doubt be one of them), but I refuse to believe there are a significant number of them.
Finally, his assertion that school districts have taken it upon themselves to adopt Common Core is ludicrous. The Legislature after all, originally mandated districts implement the Common Core before they renamed them the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards. They then essentially worked to rescind the mandate but districts had already fully implemented them. To change again, would have wasted resources and wreaked havoc on student learning.
Finchem then asked why aren’t parents choosing to stay at public schools? Well, actually, over 80 percent of Arizona students have chosen to stay in public district schools. This, despite a quarter century of charter schools in our state. He also surmised district schools are inattentive to the customer. District schools though, with their locally elected governing boards, are the only schools that are completely transparent and fully accountable to all their customers, i.e., parents, voters, taxpayers and community members. Additionally, he writes “Parents have been very clear that they do not want their children to be treated or referred to as ‘human capital’.” I have to say that I’ve never heard a student referred to as human capital, at least not in our district schools. The “churn and burn” environment of some “high performing, no excuses” for-profit charter chains might think of them this way, but district schools, who take all comers, want to educate each child.
Finchem also wrote:
“So again I have to ask the question that nobody is asking but for me, and it is a critical policy question, why aren’t parents rushing to public schools? If the matter is rooted in a call for competition to be the best, then ESA’s are one tool to draw public schools into the arena of excellence. I am interested in knowing your thoughts on how public schools can move away from delivering what parents know intuitively is wrong, and toward what parents expect? This is not a question of money; it is a question of performance.”
To the above, let me just say that I’ll concede some competition is good to help fine tune our districts, but ultimately competition is about producing winners and losers. Shouldn’t we want all our students to be winners? As for “Parents know what public schools are delivering is inherently wrong?” REALLY???. Who says? And on what parents expect from public schools, I think it looks something like: a safe environment; a full curriculum to include art, music, language, and physical education; highly effective teachers; sufficient support staff to meet student needs; reasonable class sizes; up-to-date technology; reliable buses; and well-maintained facilities conducive to learning. What parents know about what is wrong in district schools is that over 2,000 classrooms are without a teacher and another 2,000 are without a certified teacher; that being forced to rely more heavily on locally supported funding means some districts can’t afford music or art or physical education; and that maintenance and repair funding for infrastructure is woefully inadequate.
Finally, Finchem tries to make the point that this is not a question of money, but of performance. But, all of the above inadequacies are a result of inadequate funding. And that inadequate funding is due to decisions made by the Arizona Legislature. They are the ones after all, who affected the highest cuts in per pupil funding in the nation from 2008 to 2014. They are also the ones who seem to think that having an educational performance ranking between 38th and 44th (depending on who you ask) is a good enough return on investment for a 48th investment in per pupil funding and 50th in teacher salaries. But I really doubt the majority of parents think either the investment or the return is “good enough.” I certainly don’t, nor do I think many of our legislators are…starting with Smith, Leach and Finchem. #TimeForChange