When the Goldwater Institute recently recruited attorney candidates from out of state, I was able to use a lure I never would have thought possible: Arizona has the best public schools in the country.
Not all or even most of Arizona public schools, of course, qualify for that accolade. But an increasing number do, for one simple reason: Arizona has a higher percentage of public charter schools than any other state. Run by private entities, subject to fewer regulations, and union-free, many Arizona charter schools are excelling and all are injecting much-needed competition and innovation into the public school market.
Newsweek recently ranked BASIS-Scottsdale and Tucson as two of the top five public high schools in the U.S.—and the only two of the top five without selective admissions.
Despite the fact that charter schools account for about one-quarter of all Arizona public schools, eight of the top ten public high schools are charter schools based on AIMS math and reading scores, and nine of the top ten in science. Zero of the ten worst schools are charters.
Charter schools receive roughly $1,600 less in per-pupil public funding than regular public schools, but they spend it where it counts: in the classroom. Contrast that with regular public schools, which since 1950 have experienced seven times more administrative growth than student growth, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.
Meanwhile, school districts are responding to intensified competition by creating more specialized schools and innovative services. The middle school nearest my home recently displayed a banner proclaiming “Core Knowledge Coming in 2013”—which is little wonder when three top-performing charter schools nearby use that very same curriculum.
Today, 14 percent of all Arizona public school students attend charter schools. Yet 60 percent of charter schools have waiting lists, indicating still-unmet need. Greater transparency and increased choice in both the public and private sectors are expanding educational opportunities for Arizona’s schoolchildren like never before—and not a moment too soon.
Newsweek: America’s Best High Schools 2012
Goldwater Institute: 18 Years of Charter Schools in Arizona: Now We Know
Goldwater Institute: Arizona Charter School First Native American School to Win Title I Award
In the book Moneyball, Michael Lewis describes how the Oakland A’s manager assembled a competitive team on a budget by ignoring expensive heavy hitters and rocket-armed pitchers. Instead, he looked at very basic things in inexpensive players like on-base percentages and ground-out rates. The Oakland A’s went on to win two-thirds of their games in 2001. This approach could be instructive to policymakers considering how to set a state up for future success.
Moneyball came to mind when Marty Nason, the Chief Financial Officer of a small up-and-coming company, responded to a recent column I wrote in the Phoenix Business Journal about what Arizona policymakers could do to get the job engine cranked up. Marty’s company wants to produce biodegradable plastic bottles and they were considering opening their plant and basing the company in Phoenix. But neither will be.
Facing high sales taxes on equipment, significantly high property taxes, demands that the company finance electrical infrastructure, and a lack of interest from government officials, this CFO decided to locate the production facility in Florida. States he’s considering for a second facility include Texas and Nevada, but not Arizona. None of these other states has an income tax. And Texas doesn’t sales tax production equipment.
As Marty said, “Phoenix appears to be looking for only ‘home runs.’” That is, Phoenix and by extension Arizona, only want big companies with lots of employees and fat paychecks, bribing them to come here with tax subsidies. “They forget hitting many ‘singles and doubles’ is often better than ‘home runs,’” he said.
He’s right. And today we have the chance to elect state policymakers who will pay attention to the basics – low taxes, small government, efficient transportation, private property rights – and if we do, we could be the Oakland A’s of the states.
Goldwater Institute: Lessons from Texas on Building an Economically Healthier Arizona (PDF)
Goldwater Institute: A New Tax Plan for a New Economy (PDF)
Phoenix Business Journal: My View: Look to Texas for Example of Clear-Headed Thinking
For the second time in a decade, Arizona’s teachers union is trying to block children with special needs from getting the best education they can find. After kicking children with special needs and foster children out of Arizona’s opportunity scholarship program three years ago, the union is now trying to rob these children of their education savings accounts.
It’s not clear what came first—the union’s attacks on children or their dwindling influence. But this week the Thomas B. Fordham Institute released How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions? A State-By-State Comparison, which ranks Arizona’s teachers unions as the weakest in the U.S. Teacher union support of sales tax increases and lawsuits in the past ten years has made it clear that their priorities are not children but money and education bureaucrats. .
First, the Fordham report says the union has an “appetite for funding.” Living up to their reputation, the National Education Association and the AEA gave $656,500 to the Prop 204 campaign this year (which would raise Arizona’s sales tax by 1 cent). This shows that they would rather spend six figures to make sure your taxes go up than create a plan to spend more in the classroom or even raise teacher salaries. Prop 204 says nothing about classroom dollars or teacher pay.
Second, the union has fought and is fighting the most child-centered education innovations in Arizona history like private school tuition scholarships and the unique education savings accounts. In 2009, the union blocked children with special needs, like Lexie Weck, who struggles with cerebral palsy and autism, and foster children from choosing a school to meet their needs. Today, the union is suing to take away these children’s education savings accounts. The Goldwater Institute is proud to defend these children in court and give them hope for a better future.
The Fordham report says unions have their place in public education, but in Arizona, we have to wonder what that place is—and if they have gotten lost. Because what’s best for children like Lexie and the 400 students with special needs using education savings accounts seems to be lost on the teachers union.
Goldwater Institute: The Myth of Education Cuts and Why Money Can’t Buy an A+
Thomas B. Fordham Institute: How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions? A State-By-State Comparison
Education Next: School Choice Marches Forward
This past Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the constitutionality of secret warrantless dragnet surveillance of international electronic communications. Amnesty International, which often communicates with Americans who are residents of foreign countries, has challenged the secret surveillance law, known as “FISA,” by arguing that the Fourth Amendment was meant to bar such warrantless surveillance. Although the challenge involves national security issues, its ultimate outcome could have a direct impact on all types of laws that authorize the government to access the private information of its citizens.
Amnesty International and its allies have faced a serious obstacle in making their constitutional arguments. The Obama administration is using the same arguments the Bush Administration used, claiming that the only injury that can allow a lawsuit to move forward under the Fourth Amendment is proof that someone has actually suffered a loss of privacy from warrantless surveillance. This, of course, is a virtually insurmountable hurdle when the surveillance is conducted in secret. In response, Amnesty has claimed its injury is international travel costs that have been incurred because people must communicate in person, rather than using telephones or email.
But there is a better argument. It involves recognizing that the Fourth Amendment does not merely protect against invasions of privacy. The Fourth Amendment guarantees “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects.” As such, the loss of “security” in our property and private communications is the primary injury that the Fourth Amendment seeks to prevent.
That injury—insecurity in property and private communications—is clear and concrete when the federal government dragoons internet servers to intercept and pierce the private communications of Americans. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will stand with Amnesty International. A win in this case is important to defend the liberties of Americans at home and abroad.
Supreme Court of the United States: Statement of Issues (PDF)
The Washington Post: FISA Needs to Balance Security and Liberty
Recent Facebook Activity
A Lesson in Making a Bad Bill Worse
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Pension Systems Looting the Taxpayer
Have you ever squeezed a balloon and had parts of it squeeze out between your fingers? Unless you pop the balloon with a pin, it will reemerge somewhere else when you squeeze it. Public employee pensions have become balloons, and abuse of public pension systems keeps oozing despite attempts to put the squeeze on it.Read More >>
Who’s Next on the IRS’s List?
In upholding the federal health care law’s individual mandate as a tax, Chief Justice John Roberts reiterated Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ promise that “[t]he power to tax is not the power to destroy while this Court sits.” With the IRS’ recent targeted investigations of tea parties, balanced budget advocates, and constitutional study groups across the nation, the Chief Justice may soon have the opportunity to keep his promise.Read More >>