The Coercive Power of Taxation

Robert Robb wrote in a recent Op-Ed in the AZ Republic, “The government, through the coercive power of taxation, establishes a central pool of resources for the education of students.” Wow, the “coercive power of taxation.” Now that is some powerful spin. Last time I looked, taxes (that “central pool of resources”) are something we agree to pay. After all, as Jeff Bryant, in his blog OurFuture.org, writes “in a democratic society, “government” is ultimately up to us, and what it does is an expression of what we want to do for ourselves. So what the critics of government are saying, really, is that they have a problem with democracy. It’s important to know government wasn’t turned into a four-letter word by happenstance. It happened by design.” The government isn’t, some outside entity over which we have no say, he government is us! We elect those who make the laws we must follow and set the taxes we must pay. We also have the power to un-elect them. To believe those who would tell us otherwise is to abrogate our rights and responsibilities.

I just don’t get it. If taxes are an evil, coercive power, how does Robb expect a civil society to fund the common needs of its citizenry? Is there no responsibility on the part of that citizenry to contribute to provision for the common good? I suppose he would advocate for business to do it. I hate to break it to him, but business can’t or won’t provide for all our needs. There just are some things that are best provided collectively by government and based on my 22 years in the Air Force and time as a government contractor afterwards, I’ll take a sometimes inefficient government team working for our common good over a profit driven contractor any day!

Unfortunately, our Governor and GOP-led Legislature is dead set on contracting out our public schools. After all, it’s worked so well for our prisons. Those of us who care about the one million plus students in our district schools though, know this will not end well. And it is laughable that those working so hard to push the voucher expansion tout themselves as fiscal conservatives. Maybe the fiscally conservative aspect of vouchers is that they allow those with sufficient fiscal resources to conserve those resources by offsetting them with the welfare handouts taxpayers provide.

Columnist Joanna Allhands, also at azcentral.com, just yesterday urged us all to just “calm down”, reasoning that the expansion of vouchers is not going to produce a mass exodus from our district schools. Know what? I totally agree. After all, parents have had school choice for almost a quarter of a century and yet, over 80 percent of them still choose district schools. Additionally, the vast majority of parents can’t afford to make the choice to take a voucher even if they wanted to. Now worth only $4,400 for a mainstream student, vouchers won’t even begin to cover private school tuition of $6,000 for elementary or $18,000 for high school.

Ultimately though, this fight isn’t about the choice of schools, but rather, what kind of country we want. Do we want one that values all its people and wants each to have the opportunity to reach his or her full potential, or do we believe that only the strong should survive and “to the winner go all the spoils”? Do we recognize all the benefits our district schools – with their locally elected governing boards – bring to our students, families and communities all across America, or don’t communities even matter anymore? Are we destined to continue to segregate and polarize, or can we reconnect with the idea that diversity is our strength and that our public schools are the melting pot that teaches each of us that truth?

Don’t be fooled by all the noise. The expansion of vouchers is not about our kids, but about profit and power. It is part of the systematic destruction of the people’s faith in our institutions and their voice in our democracy. That’s why this fight is far from over. Betsy DeVos may have tweeted congratulations to Governor Ducey last week, but her money fueled ideological agenda won’t win in the end. That’s because our cause is just and we have a much higher purpose than ourselves…we have our children.

President John F. Kennedy said, “A child miseducated is a child lost.” Proponents of public education understand every child is precious and should not have their potential determined by the circumstances of their birth. Public schools offer the best opportunity for all children to achieve the American Dream and the road to that dream is paved by the “coercive power of taxation.” If this is no longer what we want for not only our own children, but all America’s children, let’s quit pretending we either are great, or want to be great again. That time will have passed.

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Chair of AZ Senate Ed Cmte Needs Education

AZ Senator Sylvia Allen, Senate Education Committee Chair, recently asked, “When is it [funding for education] ever enough?” That depends on what kind of educational opportunities we want to offer our students. Additional funding alone can’t assure high quality schools, but it can provide a broader curriculum, more experienced teachers, smaller class sizes, better maintained facilities more conducive to learning, and much more.

It might be better to ask how much IS NOT enough. I believe there is not enough when: our educational performance is ranked 44th in the nation, our per pupil funding 48th, and our teacher salaries 50th; 2,000 of our classrooms are without a teacher and another 2,000-plus are filled by uncertified personnel; and our districts received only two percent of the facility repair and maintenance funding they needed from 2008 to 2012, creating a backlog impossible to clean up under current funding constraints.

Senator Allen refers to the Proposition 204 vote as proof Arizonans aren’t willing to pay higher taxes to support education. Well, that was five years ago, and polling data from December 2016 shows 77 percent of Arizonans believe the state should spend more on education and 61 percent (about the same percentage that defeated 204) support paying higher taxes to do just that. Yes, Proposition 123 was “creative”, but it didn’t provide enough to move us up even one place in per pupil funding and as the AZ Daily Sun points out, those in charge at the Capitol are “running out of non-tax gimmicks to tap.”

She also asks if people are willing to move funding from another area — should we let our roads deteriorate or sex offenders out of prison or reverse the millions spent on child safety? Bad examples in my mind since the AZ Legislature has consistently raided the HURF monies to fund the Department of Public Safety essentially causing residents to be taxed again when car repairs are forced by deteriorating roads, and private prisons cost us $4.60 per day per prisoner more than the public ones they replaced $4.60 per day per prisoner in 2010. Yes, this figure is dated, but a more current one is not available because the Legislature mandated the collection of that data be halted.

I’m guessing Senator Allen has her own ideas about how to better support the 80 percent of Arizona students in our district schools. Since she specifically asked for recommendations from readers, though, I will offer mine:
1. Curtail the tax cuts and credits for corporations;
2. Stop attempts to allow even more siphoning off of our district funds to private and religious schools via voucher (Empowerment Scholarship Accounts) expansions;
3. Close corporate loopholes in the tax code;
4. Renew Proposition 301 (which expires in 2020) and increase it to a full penny (currently at one-half cent). Sixty-five percent of the respondents to the December poll supported this idea which will bring in an estimated $400 million more per year; and
5. Convene stakeholder meetings to discuss recommendations from the Governor’s Classrooms First Council (which state additional funding was needed) and long-term funding solutions that include new revenue sources and an update of Proposition 301.

Senator Allen concludes by saying, “I understand as legislators we’re an easy target…”, As an Arizona taxpaying citizen, I would remind her that she and her colleagues get paid to ensure the state’s business is taken care of, including the constitutional mandate to provide for, maintain and enrich our public schools. President Teddy Roosevelt said, “Complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is called whining.” I’ve offered five realistic solutions to get our district schools the resources they need. How about you Senator Allen?

Vouchers: Some Common Sense Questions

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you know corporate reformers are anxious to implement vouchers as a way to expand school choice. The secret sauce they say, is that the dollars follow the student because parents know best about what is best for their child’s education.

Just for a few moments though, I’d like to ask you to please forget whether or not you believe school choice and vouchers are the answer to “Make American Education Great Again.” Forget all the hype and promises, just ask yourself which of these scenarios makes more sense?

  1. Which is more accountable and transparent to parents, the taxpayers and voters and therefore less likely to experience less fraud, waste and abuse? #1 Hint to the answer. #2 Hint to the answer. #3 Hint to the answer.
    a. District schools that must report every purchase, competitively bid out purchases over a certain amount, have all purchases scrutinized by a locally elected governing board, undergo an extensive state-run audit each year, and are publicly reported on for performance efficiency and student achievement by the AZ Auditor General’s office each year?
    b. A voucher system which puts the onus on recipient parents to submit proof of expenditures to an understaffed AZ Department of Education office responsible for monitoring the $37 million ($99.7 million since 2011) in voucher expenditures for 4,102 different students?
  2. Which is more likely to be held accountable for student achievement and thereby taxpayer return on investment? Hint to the answer.
    a. A district school where students are given a standardized state test with scores rolled up to the state and made public, where data is reported (following federal guidelines for data protection) by subgroups to determine achievement gaps, and where high school graduation and college attendance rates are reported?
    b. A private school that does not provide any public visibility to test results and where the state (per law) has no authority to request or require academic progress from voucher recipients or the school?
  3. Which is more likely regarding the portability (with no impact) of per student funding when students leave their district schools?
    a. When a student leaves a district school with their education funding in their backpack, they take all associated expenses with them?
    b. That there are fixed costs left behind (approx. 19%) that the school is required to still fund such as teachers and other staff that cannot be eliminated just because a couple of students left a classroom, or a bus route that can’t be done away with just because one student is no longer taking that bus, or a building air conditioner that can’t be turned off because the occupancy in the classrooms is down by three students. That what the “drain” causes instead, is larger class sizes, less support services, less variety in the curricula, etc.?
  4. Which is more likely to serve disadvantaged students — the ones most in need of our help? Hint to the answer.
    a. A district school, where the vast majority of educational expenses are covered by the taxpayer, where students are transported from their home to school, where free and reduced lunches are provided and which must accept all comers?
    b. A $5,200 voucher to a private or parochial school which has total control over which students they accept, does not provide transportation and according to PrivateSchoolReview.com costs an average of $6,000 for elementary schools and $18,000 for high schools in 2016-17?

I hope you came to the same conclusions I did some time ago, that when it comes to transparency, accountability and equity, district schools outperform private schools. I’d also like to make the unequivocal claim that district schools also (across the board) produce more achievement than private schools, but as you can see, they don’t report their results so I don’t know that for sure.

And yet, the Arizona Legislature continues to push expansion of vouchers in our state. A push for full expansion last year by Debbie Lesko (Peoria-R) was killed, largely due to its potentially negative impact on the passage of Proposition 123, but she has revived the effort this year in the form of SB 1431. This bill, which would fully expand vouchers to ALL 1.1 million Arizona students by the 2020-2021 school year has been assigned to the Senate Education and Rules Committees and is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Ed Cmte on 2/9/17. Senator Steve Smith (Maricopa-R) has sponsored an associated bill, SB 1281, that requires the AZ DOE to contract with an outside firm (I’m sure that’s much better…just like private prisons) to help administer the ESA program, and makes various changes to the program. The bill stipulates that AZ DOE may request (not MUST request) confirmation toward graduation from high school or completion of a GED. This is obviously an attempt to defuse the argument there is insufficient accountability in the AZ voucher programAZEDNEWS also reports that Lesko supports adding a requirement to her bill to track achievement of ESA students, but that requirement would be only to report test results to parents, not the AZ DOE.

No matter how much sugar the commercializers try to coat vouchers with, they are still just a vehicle for siphoning tax dollars away from our district community schools to private and parochial (religious) schools with no accountability or transparency. For every person who says “parents have the right to use their child’s education tax dollars as they see fit”, I say, “and taxpayers have the right to know the return on investment for their tax dollars.” The former right in no way “trumps” the latter.

We must stop this terrible legislation. If you are signed up for the Legislature’s Request to Speak system, please click here to log in today and leave a comment for the Senate Education Committee about why you oppose SB 1431 and SB 1281. If you aren’t signed up, please leave me a comment to this post and I will get you signed up and ensure you are trained to use it. The system allows you to comment on pending legislation from your home computer or mobile device, you don’t have to go to the Legislature and speak in person unless you want to.

If you don’t want to use RTS, please call or email the members of the Senate Education Committee (listed below) and your district legislators (click here to find out who they are) to let them know how you feel. There is strength in numbers and the people do have the power, we just have to exercise it!

Senate Education Committee Members

Sylvia Allen, Chairman – 602.926.5409

David Bradley – 602.926.5262

Kate Brophy McGee – 602.926.4486

Catherine Miranda – 602.926.4893

Steve Montenegro, Vice-Chairman – 602.926.5955

Steve Smith – 602.926.5685

Kimberly Yee – 602.926.3024

 

Four. Hundred. Thousand.

That’s how many of Arizona’s children live in poverty. 400,000 children who are likely food insecure, with a dim outlook for the future. Let’s face it. The American Dream is no longer the promise it once was. Yes, those who work very hard can still make something of themselves in our country, but it is no longer a given that a child, even one who really applies themselves, will be better off than his or her parents.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation publishes an annual Kids Count Databook that rates states in on how children fare in each of the 50 states. In the 2016 report, Arizona ranked:

  • 45th in overall child well-being
  • 39th in economic well-being
  • 44th in education
  • 45th in health
  • 46th in family and community

Not statistics to be proud of by any imagination. Not surprising either, since with one in five (1.26 million) living below the poverty line, Arizona is second to last in the nation, in front of only Mississippi.

Despite what the privatization pushers would have you believe, the number one problem facing our community district schools is poverty. As for those who would say, “they ought to just pull themselves up by their bootstraps” not only do you need boots to have bootstraps but how is pulling yourself up by your bootstraps technically even possible? And for those who say it is a parental responsibility to care for their children, I say absolutely! But, over one-third of the households in Arizona are single parent. Want to bet the vast majority of these households live in poverty?

I’m not saying that poor families can’t be good families. Far from it. What I am saying is that being poor makes everything else tougher to deal with. Those of us who are fortunate to live well above the poverty line can’t imagine the day-to-day challenges of being poor. Once, while running for political office, my wife took the SNAP Challenge. This required her to live for a week on a food budget of a little over $4 per day. (SNAP, an acronym for the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is also known as “food stamps.”) The challenge was, well, challenging, and that’s just one very small glimpse of what it means to be poor. For children, it can mean that the only meal they get each day is the one they get at school. That makes learning more difficult and illness more likely.

For the rest of us, it means missed opportunities and wasted resources.  This, because we will never know from where the next President, successful businessperson, literary genius, or incredible athlete will come. Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson all came from poor roots. Lebrun James and soccer star Pele grew up in poor families. Oprah, who grew up in extreme poverty, is the daughter of an unmarried teen. John Paul DeJoria (Paul Mitchell hair products and Patron tequila) lived in a foster home and spent time in an L.A. street gang. Andrew Carnegie, considered one of the largest benefactors of libraries and educational institutions across the country, worked in factories as a child and forced himself to sleep at night so he would forget his constant hunger. Yes, these people were probably special to start with, but they didn’t make it big all on their own. Which poor kids have we already written off that could have had similar stories if only we’d provided them the right support? And for those who might not be moved by thoughts of disadvantaged poor children or the missed opportunities surrounding them, I offer the sheer economics of this crisis.

“In the mid-1990s”, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris said in her recent TED talk, “a decade-long study of 17,500 adults (70 percent Caucasian and college educated) conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the CDC, found childhood trauma dramatically increased the risk for 7 out of 10 of the leading causes of death in the U.S. Depending on the amount of trauma experienced, those exposed had triple the risk of heart disease and lung cancer, 4-1/2 times the risk of depression, 12 times the risk of suicide ideality and a 20-year decrease in life expectancy. Almost 13 percent of the population has had significant exposure, yet 20-plus years later, doctors are still not trained in routine screening or treatment.

Children in foster care have generally had to deal with more than their share of trauma such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse; neglect; living with parents with drug and/or alcohol addiction; and much more. In Arizona, the state is seeing an alarmingly large increase in the number of children living in foster care due to abuse or neglect. “The rate grew by 87% between 2009 and 2015 and the number of children in foster care more than doubled in seven counties.” As of March of this year, there were 18,906 kids in out-of-home care, seven percent more than the 17,592 children from a year ago. By 2016, the number was more than 19,000. This, after Governor Ducey fired the head of the Department of Child Safety for systemic problems with that agency’s ability to protect children. The problems obviously still exist.

Arizona’s Children’s Action Alliance says there is “growing and unmanageable stress on families, the destruction of the safety net to help families before they are in crisis, and the lack of effective child welfare policies and practices to keep children safely at home. Resulting consequences include huge costs to taxpayers, an overwhelmed and unsustainable child protective services system, a shortage of foster families with children sleeping in offices and living in shelters, and life-changing trauma for thousands of children. Arizonans will bear the effects for many years to come, as children who have experienced foster care are far more likely to fail in school, become homeless, and suffer with poor mental and physical health.”

Providing the right support to help children grow into productive citizens is money in the bank. Prenatal care is less expensive than preschool and preschool is less expensive than prison. Ensuring much better outcomes, while ultimately saving taxpayer dollars, should be something everyone can get behind.

AZ again at bottom in “50 States Report”

The Network for Public Education (NPE), a public education advocacy group headed by the Nation’s preeminent public education expert and advocate, Diane Ravitch, released their “A 50 State Report Card” today. As the name indicates, the report card grades the 50 states and the District of Columbia on six criteria: No High Stakes Testing, Professionalization of Teaching, Resistance to Privatization, School Finance, Spend Taxpayer Resources Wisely, and Chance for Success. Letter grades from “A” to “F” were then averaged to create the overall GPA and letter grade for each state.

I was proud to note the study was conducted with the help of Francesca Lopez, Ph.D. and her student research team at the University of Arizona. They assisted in the identification of 29 measurable factors that guided the ratings of the six criteria and created a 0-4 scale for ratings and then evaluated each state on the 29 factors. The graders were tough, with only 5 states earning an “A” grade and no state’s overall grade exceeding a “C.”

Not surprising to anyone who keeps up with Arizona public education, the state ranked 48th, but I assume only because Arizona begins with an “A.”   Arizona’s grade of 0.67 earned it an overall “F”, numerically tying it with Idaho and Texas (in 49th and 50th place), just above Mississippi.

The first criterion evaluated was “High Stakes Testing” which according to NPE has caused “the narrowing of the curriculum and excessive classroom time devoted to preparing for tests.” The organization also points to peer-reviewed studies highlighting “the potentially negative impacts of this practice, including the dismissal of quality teachers and the undermining of morale.” Five states received an “A” grade for their rejection of the use of exit exams to determine high school graduation, the use of test results to determine student promotion, and educator evaluation systems that include test results. Arizona received a grade of “C” in this area.

The second criterion evaluated was “Professionalization of Teaching”, because “many of the current popular American reforms give lip service to the professionalization of teaching while displaying an appalling lack of understanding of what professionalization truly means.” NPE points to research that “shows that experience matters and leads to better student outcomes, including increased learning, better attendance and fewer disciplinary referrals.” High grades were given to states that exhibited a commitment to teaching as a profession. Unfortunately, no states were awarded an “A” in this area and only two states, Iowa and New York received a “B.” Arizona received a grade of “F” which goes a long way towards explaining our state’s critical shortage of teachers.

In the area of “Resistance to Privatization”, seven states received an “A” grade. The evaluation of this criterion was centered on school choice policies that “move control of schools from democratic, local control to private control.” Market-based approaches (vouchers, charters and parent trigger laws) reports NPE, “take the governance of schools out of the hands of democratically elected officials and the local communities they serve, and place it in the hands of a few individuals – often elites or corporations with no connections to the community.” Such policies drain resources from neighborhood schools and don’t overall, produce better results in general. NPE writes “they also serve to undermine the public’s willingness to invest in the education of all children while creating wider inequities across the system as a whole.” Since NPE believes in strengthening community schools, they evaluated states on whether they have laws, policies and practices that support and protect their neighborhood schools. As an early leader in school choice, Arizona more than earned the “F” grade it was awarded.

Since the level of poverty in a school is the single best predictor of average student performance, “School Finance” was another criterion evaluated. NPE looked at whether states adequately and fairly funded their schools noting that “resources like smaller class sizes and more support staff lead to significantly higher achievement and graduation rates – especially for poor and minority students.” Only one state, New Jersey, received an “A” grade in this area. This is not surprising since in the past decade, the gap in spending between rich and poor districts has grown by 44%. NPE calls for states to sufficiently fund public education and implement progressive financial polices that “provide the most funds to districts that demonstrate the greatest need.” The factors used to determine a state’s grade were: per-pupil expenditure adjusted for poverty, wages and district size/density; resources spent on education in relation to the state’s ability to pay based on gross product; and increased proportion of aid given to high-poverty districts than to low-poverty. Once again, Arizona received an “F” grade in this area.

In evaluating the criterion of “Spend Taxpayer Resources Wisely”, NPE looked at how states’ education dollars are spent. As research shows the significant benefit of early childhood education, high quality pre-school and all-day Kindergarten were a significant factor in the evaluation as were lower class sizes and the rejection of virtual schools.   In this area, Arizona received a “D” grade, with no states receiving an “A” and only Montana receiving a “B” grade.

“Chance for Success” was the final criterion evaluated. It looked at state policies directly affecting the income, living conditions and support received by students and their parents/guardians. NPE says that residential segregation is largely responsible for school segregation. However, the organization says, “state policies that promote school choice typically exacerbate segregation and charters often isolate students by race and class.” The states that had fewer students living in or near poverty, and have the most integrated schools received the highest grades. No states received an “A” grade, but 10 received a grade of “B.” In this final area, Arizona received a grade of “D.”

It can be no coincidence that Arizona continues to finish last, or close to last, in the vast majority of every report on state public education performance. In fact, the only report I’ve found it to be rated better than at the bottom is from the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) Report Card on American Education. Not surprising from this highly conservative “bill mill” for the Koch Brothers and the GOP, which works to develop model legislation favorable to its corporate members and provide it to legislators for implementation in their states. It speaks volumes about ALEC’s focus when even though Arizona ranked 47th on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), they gave the state an overall B- on education policy. That’s because ALEC values states’ support of charter schools, embrace of home schools and private school choice programs, teacher quality (as defined by the National Council on Teacher Quality) and digital learning. For the most part, the positions ALEC takes on education policy are the exact opposite of NPE’s positions. ALEC pushes school choice and the privatization of public education and in Arizona, the Goldwater Institute does it’s part to support ALEC in it’s efforts to kill public education. What’s in it for ALEC, the Goldwater Institute, their legislators, donors and corporate members? As is often the case, it’s all about money in the form of campaign donations for legislators, profits for those in the for-profit charter and private school business, increased tax breaks for donors and welfare for corporate members. You might ask how privatizing education can lead to increased corporate welfare when such privatization will undoubtedly lead to increased costs? (Think privatization of prisons.) Easy, when the state’s cost for “public” education is passed on to those taking advantage of the privatized option via vouchers and charters. It is well known that both often cost more than the state provided funding covers and parents must pick up the tab.

I attended the first NPE Conference held in 2013 in Austin, Texas where I was privileged to meet and hear Diane and numerous other leaders in the effort to save public education. I, like them, believe (as Diane writes in the NPE report) “educating all children is a civil responsibility, not a consumer good.” And although the phrase “civil rights issue of our time” is way overused, I deeply believe it rings true when, (as Diane writes) it refers to “sustaining our system of free, equitable and democratically-controlled public schools that serve all children.”  I’ve quoted him before, but John Dewey’s words bear repeating until we, as a nation “get it”: “What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.” Yes, we should act on public education as our very democracy is at stake, because it is!

Predatory Privatization

Education reformers would have you believe the best way to improve the American public education is to privatize it.  Senator Al Melvin, candidate for Arizona Governor, thinks the solution is to give parents $9K for each of their children so they can choose where to send their child.  Never mind that there are over $1 million students in Arizona and the cost to implement this “voucher” system would be more than the entire state budget.

Nonetheless, let’s explore this idea that privatization is the best solution to provide services for the common good.  In Arizona, we turn to the business of incarcerating people, as this state is one of the leader’s in privatizing prisons.  In early 2012, the Arizona chapter of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) issued a report on the impact of private prisons in the state.  The report was called “Private Prisons: the Public’s Problem” and it concluded that between 2008 and 2010, Arizona overpaid for private prison services by about
$10 million, and the services it received were sub-par: malfunctioning alarm systems, fences with holes in them, staff who didn’t follow basic procedures and more.  In fact, the state’s auditor general found 157 serious security failings across five prisons that hold in-state prisoners.  At least 28 riots were also noted.[i]

How did we get here?  In 2012, Corrections Corporation of America (the largest for-profit private prison company in the country) sent a letter to 48 state governors offering to buy their public prisons in return for 20-year contracts.  These contracts would include a 90 percent occupancy rate guarantee for the entire term.  In Arizona, three for-profit prison contracts secured a staggering 100% quota, despite an analysis from 2012 by the Tucson Citizen that showed the company’s per-day charge for each prisoner increased an average of 13.9% over the life of the contracts.  In 1997, Arizona’s spent $409 million on prisons; the per-year cost is more than $1 billion today.  The state now has over 600 current contracts for incarceration related functions, but in fact, cost-effectiveness claims of private prisons just aren’t true.[ii]  According to both AFSC and the non-profit privatization resource center, In the Public Interest:  “in states across the country, private prisons have been plagued with a multitude of problems – major riots have exploded, inmates have died, and civil rights have been routinely violated. Private prisons have an economic motive to cut costs in every area of operations, resulting in lower-quality staff, higher employee turnover, and degrading prison conditions. These dismal conditions directly contribute to the decreased security and higher incidence of violence found at privatized prisons. As prison quality greatly suffers, there is little evidence that these private prisons save governments money.”

Surely this drove Arizona legislators to rethink their position on privatizing prisons, right?  Nope, instead of trying to right the ship, they just turned it into a submarine passing HB2860 which, in the words of AFSC, would “ensure that the public would have no way of knowing whether the state’s private prisons are saving money, rehabilitating prisoners, or ensuring public safety.”[iii]  Why would this be the case you ask?  Let’s just follow the money. Private prison companies like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America have made huge contributions to legislators from both major parties, but most of the funds have gone to Republicans.  These corporations have also played a very direct role in designing legislation good for business (such as SB 1070, the state’s notorious immigration bill, passed in 2010).   Florida on the other hand, made exactly the opposite choice with a bi-partisan bill to defeat a plan to privatize the state’s prisons.  The legislators who opposed the bill “argued that public education, like public safety, is a core mission of government that shouldn’t be outsourced to private vendors.”[iv]

As with the prison industry example, the incentives motivating those seeking privatization appear to be immune to the failures of vouchers to deliver on the promise of improved educational outcomes.[v]  The Arizona State Legislature has been working toward privatization of our public schools in a multitude of ways.  Tax credits for private schools and student tuition organizations wash money from public schools into private ones, often for students whose parents didn’t need the help to send their child to those schools.  Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) give parents 90% of what the state would have spent on their child with a wide range of how they can spend it, even to send their child to a private school.  Then there was also the pillaging of the public education budget that made Arizona the state with the highest per-pupil cuts to education from 2008 to 2012.  Court mandated funding of the owed inflation funding from Prop 301 has helped raise us to third highest in the nation now, but that still is a poor ranking.   Of course, it is important to understand that many of these voucher work-around programs get started as providing opportunity to students from poor families, children with disabilities or students in underperforming schools as with Arizona’s ESAs.  This however, is not the ultimate goal of the privatizers.  They are instead, a tactical means to a much larger strategic end of ending public education.[vi]

To what end you ask?  Again, follow the money.  Organizations like ALEC are promoting school choice and privatization, providing our legislators “camera ready” bills to implement across the country.  In addition, Right-wing organizations and donors laud Arizona as a leader in the school choice movement and are funneling big money into the state.

What is really ironic about this whole privatization movement is that the GOP has painted them self into this corner.  Their anti-government fanaticism, combined with tough stances on crime, immigration, etc., combined with a refusal to raise taxes, forces them to tout the benefits of privatization.  Unfortunately, the companies whom the services are farmed out to are interested much more in a desire to generate revenue than in any social obligation.  Think Halliburton and Backwater during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The bottom line is that business is in business to make money.  There is nothing wrong with that as long as the product or service they provide is not something that must be provided to everyone regardless of their ability to pay.  Every state constitution in the nation mandates the state provide a free public education – it was a requirement for their entry into the Union.  But, when public services have been outsourced to “for-profit” companies, it is very likely the contract will increase in cost over time, limit transparency, undermine good public policy and the democratic process, and that the drive to generate revenue over providing for the public good will eventually be more costly to the taxpayers.[vii]  The examples abound.  We should pay attention.  Public schools are not only our right as Americans, but they helped make us a great nation and, are important still very important to the health of our communities today.