Migrant bail, vouchers and AIMS' aims

Posted on June 17, 2007 | Type: In the News | Author: Robert Robb
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From the political notebook:

The Arizona House, on a party-line vote, approved a bill last week to put some teeth in the ballot measure passed last year by voters to deny bail to illegal immigrants charged with serious crimes.

The courts have made a hash of its implementation.

Ordinarily, court commissioners make bail determinations at the initial appearance, which used to often occur without either a prosecutor or a defense attorney present.

After criticism initially surfaced that the courts weren't implementing the law, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth McGregor issued some rules that required an adversarial evidentiary hearing subsequent to the initial appearance in all such cases. There are now prosecutors and defense lawyers incessantly patrolling the initial appearances.

Meanwhile, the presiding judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court, Barbara Rodriquez Mundell, insists that the courts are implementing Proposition 100, but my colleague, Laurie Roberts, keeps documenting cases in which the defendant was all but wearing a neon sign saying he was an illegal immigrant, but gets bail nevertheless.

So, legislation is warranted, but it isn't clear how much good it will do. The standard for denying bail, probable cause, is the same one McGregor specified in her order. The legislation does require commissioners to consider evidence that Roberts' reporting indicates is being ignored.

But judging is ultimately weighing evidence, and the Legislature cannot compel particular results. Moreover, there's a constitutional question about how much the Legislature can dictate court procedures and operations.

McGregor may need to weigh in again.

School choice advocates are cheering the Superior Court decision last week upholding small voucher programs for foster and special-needs kids. This issue will undoubtedly get to the state Supreme Court, where the real decision will be made.

I'm a strong supporter of vouchers and think they are much better public policy than the tuition tax credit approach on which Arizona now relies.

Good tax policy favors broad bases and low tax rates. The tuition tax credit erodes the tax base, and along with the myriad other credits and deductions, puts an upward pressure on rates.

The tuition tax credit, then, is bad tax policy in the service of good education policy. A true voucher system, in which scholarships to private schools would be funded from post-tax rather than pre-tax dollars, would be preferable.

Nevertheless, it must be noted that to find vouchers constitutional requires other than the strict constructionist or originalist interpretation the right ordinarily favors.

The state Constitution says, "no tax shall be laid or appropriation of public money made in aid of any church, or private or sectarian school." The intent, although born of religious bigotry, was to deny public assistance to educate kids in Catholic schools.

The argument that vouchers are nevertheless constitutionally permissible is that the decision that gets the money to the private school is made by parents rather than the state. That's the sort of extra-textual analysis conservatives usually deplore.

A Goldwater Institute study last week raised some serious questions about the state's dual-purpose AIMS exam.

According to the study, the part of the test that is supposed to measure how Arizona students compare to other students from around the country cannot be trusted. It hasn't been field-verified and the statistical argument for it is flawed.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne proposed the dual-purpose exam to reduce the number of days students spent being tested. Previously, the state had administered two tests: AIMS, to measure whether kids were learning what the state was trying to teach; and the Stanford 9, to measure how Arizona students compare with other students from around the country.

Both measurements are vital and the Goldwater Institute study findings are disturbing.

The Legislature should establish an interim study committee to independently evaluate the reliability of the dual-purpose AIMS exam, particularly as it purports to measure how Arizona students stack up against students from other states.

I will even be so bold as to propose a chairman for the committee: Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, who has both an interest in and an aptitude for this kind of statistical minutia.

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