We cannot expect everyone to buy the same kind of car. People have different needs—a handyman wants a truck, a mom needs a van with sliding doors, and someone with a long commute needs a car with good gas mileage.
Likewise, every child is different and needs to be challenged in different ways. Arizona has 52 school districts that offer online classes, along with charter schools like Connections Academy, Arizona Virtual Academy, and Primavera, to help students get ahead or take courses not offered at their assigned school. Yet traditional public school students cannot count on their school accepting credits from an online class offered outside their school district.
Limiting students to classes only offered by their district is like requiring everyone to buy exactly the same car. Lawmakers must allow students to take the courses they need and receive credit towards graduation. Lawmakers who want to open the door wider to online learning should consider a law based on three key principles:
1. Students need to demonstrate learning. A dizzying number of courses are available online. Instead of asking school districts to determine which classes are high-quality and which are not, students should be required to take a test to show they have mastered the material taught in an online class. The College Board (makers of the SAT, SAT subject tests, and Advanced Placement exams), the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and the Stanford series are just a few test options that could show how much a student has learned.
2. Students should be allowed to take courses from any online school and apply the credits to high school graduation. Once a student demonstrates proficiency, districts should be required to accept credits earned at any provider.
3. State payments should be based on mastery. Virtual schools should receive a portion of per student funding at the beginning of a semester, part after the student passes the course, and the remaining amount after the student has passed a final test. This will ensure schools and students stay focused on course completion and learning the material.
Researchers estimate half of all elementary and high school material will be delivered online in the next decade. Digital learning has arrived, and states must find a way to give every child the ability to take classes that meet their needs.
Goldwater Institute: Keeping Up with the Speed of Virtual Education
Arizona State Board of Education: Approved Arizona Online Instruction Programs
Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has just added his name to the ranks of governors who have proposed eliminating their state’s income tax. The first play of this interstate tax competition was made by Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma who proposed eliminating her state’s income tax last year. Fallin, unfortunately, was not able to make that happen last year but has vowed to try again. This year, Jindal hopes to beat Oklahoma to the punch. Based on the successful legislative record Jindal has had to date, he just might be able to.
It’s a reform that would be vitally important to Louisiana. That state has a tax climate that ranks poorly relative to both the states in the southeast region and the nation. And it’s competing – and losing – to other states like Florida and Texas that have no income tax. Jindal’s proposal has already spurred glowing headlines and sparked further admiration by conservatives nationally and in the Bayou State.
This type of interstate tax competition is something that Arizona ignores at its peril.
Governor Jindal will be releasing more details of his plan soon, but he’s promised to make the income tax elimination revenue neutral. That will require either raising the sales tax rate to 7 percent from 4 percent, broadening the sales tax base by getting rid of a number of sales tax exemptions, or a combination of both. The Tax Foundation has already reported that elimination of the income tax in Louisiana would propel it to one of the best tax climates in the nation, right alongside the likes of Texas and Florida.
Here in Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer and her administration are to be commended for making sales tax simplification one of the top agenda items for this legislative session. Simplification is a necessary first step for overall tax reform. But it’s only a first step.
If Arizona is going to compete with states like Texas or Louisiana – both of which have geographic advantages that Arizona simply does not have – we are going to have to be better than they are at the tax competition game. The best way for Governor Brewer to leverage her sales tax simplification efforts is to couple it with fundamental tax reform that outdoes what Governor Jindal is trying to do. It the only way we can stay in this game. And it’s a game we need to win.
Goldwater Institute: A New Tax Plan for a New Economy: How Eliminating the Income Tax Can Create Jobs
Tax Foundation: Governor Jindal's Bold New Tax Plan
Dipping your feet in a pool of “Spa Fish” is a trendy new way to create baby-bottom-smooth feet. Cindy Vong began offering this service a few years ago in Gilbert, Ariz., a growing city outside Phoenix. The therapy historically has been used to treat psoriasis patients in the Middle East and Asia. Patients dip their feet into baths of tiny, toothless Garra Rufa fish that nibble off dry skin, and voila.
This treatment, popular with customers, turned out not to be popular with Arizona’s Board of Cosmetology. Despite the fact that Vong followed all the rules, providing a safe, sanitary environment, the board shut down Vong’s fishspa, and three employees lost their jobs.
“We consider the fish being a tool,” said the Board, and “every tool that comes in contact with a client in Arizona needs to be disinfected or thrown away.” Since you can’t scrub a living fish with Clorox, the board shuttered Vong’s business.
No doubt the treatment isn’t for everyone, but neither are chemical peels or spandex, and they’re not illegal. Like millions of bureaucratic decisions, this one was marked by absurdities. By definition, you can’t sterilize fish. Instead of letting the industry self-regulate, granting Vong an experimental waiver, or working to craft reasonable guidelines for the treatment, the board chose the most destructive path, trampling on Vong’s right to make an honest living and sending workers into the unemployment lines.
That’s why the Goldwater Institute will be in court defending Cindy Vong this morning. We will argue that the government has overstepped its authority. The Constitution guarantees Americans the right to pursue an honest living unless there is a direct threat to the health and safety of the public. The only threat in this case is to the health of our constitutional freedoms.
Goldwater Institute: Vong v. Aune Case Page
Goldwater Institute: Protecting small fish from a big bureaucracy
The New Year is full of promise for over 200,000 Arizona children. Why? Because those children now have more options for schooling than ever before.
Between January 1 and May 1, approximately 1 out of every 5 Arizona public school students is eligible to apply for one of Arizona’s unique education savings accounts. For the 2013-14 school year, all children with special needs or attending failing schools can apply, along with children of active duty members of the military or adopted out of the state foster care system.
These education savings accounts are bank accounts parents use to make educational purchases for their child. Arizona deposits student funds from the state formula in the accounts, and parents can pay tuition, buy textbooks, and even save money for college. Over 300 children are using an account this school year to pay for the education that best meets their needs.
Parents are using the accounts for many different expenses. In early 2011, parents paid more than $182,000 in tuition; $2,500 on textbooks; $10,000 to educational therapists; $3,200 for tutoring services; and $600 was deposited in college savings plans.
In addition, the Arizona Department of Education’s first customer satisfaction survey of parents using the accounts found that parents gave the department an average score of 4.23 out of 5. For a new program that began enrolling children just weeks after the law passed in 2011 and is unlike any other in the U.S., it is remarkable that any office could successfully coordinate so many new rules and procedures with hundreds of families.
A lot will be happening with the accounts in 2013. The Goldwater Institute will continue to defend children from the teachers union, the Arizona Education Association, which is trying to take the accounts away from children with special needs. The Arizona Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on the law February 13. And during the upcoming legislative session, Arizona lawmakers will consider a bill to make sure rules are in place to prevent fraud in the accounts.
This will be a promising year for all the new children who have the opportunity to sign up for an education savings account and for the program itself.
Goldwater Institute: Education Savings Accounts: A Path to Give All Children an Effective Education and Prepare Them for Life
Goldwater Institute: Education Savings Accounts: Questions and Answers
Arizona Republic: Expansion of state’s school-voucher system takes effect today
Arizona Department of Education: Empowerment Scholarship Account Customer Satisfaction Survey
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