Too often, the traditional public-school model fails students and teachers. Charter schools, scholarship tax credits, and merit pay are giving students a better education and teachers a better career.
On May 11, 1993, Jack and Isabelle McVaugh and other prominent members of the Phoenix community held a press conference at Olympic boxer Michael Carbajal's gym, announcing the formation of Arizona School Choice Trust (ASCT). The privately funded scholarship program would give low-income students in Maricopa County the opportunity to attend private school. Within 10 days of announcing the scholarships, ASCT had 500 students on its waiting list.
Six years ago, Arizona policymakers created a revolutionary school choice program by allowing a $500 dollar-for-dollar income tax credit for contributions to organizations that give students scholarships to attend private elementary and secondary schools. In 2001, the Cato Institute published a study evaluating the first years of the program and analyzing its potential impact. This paper is a follow-up to that study, assessing the recent trends in the program, its impact on Arizona's educational system, and identifying potential reforms.
PHOENIX-At a policy forum releasing two new Goldwater Institute reports on Arizona's scholarship tax credit program, Sen. Mark Anderson (R-Mesa), Rep. John Huppenthal (R-Chandler), and U.S. Rep. Trent Franks expressed support for expansion of the five-year-old program to allow businesses to make contributions. Education scholars Carrie Lukas and Dan Lips described the successes of the program, which last year generated $26 million from 50,000 taxpayers.
In 1998, few Americans had ever watched "reality" television. Even fewer had heard of Britney Spears. Yet today, they are embedded in the fabric of our popular culture. Likewise, few Arizonans knew theirs was the first state in the country to allow tax credits for donations to fund private school scholarships. Six years later, for over 50,000 Arizona taxpayers, the scholarship tax credit program is as much a holiday tradition as trips to the shopping mall.
In March, the Goldwater Institute released Race and Disability: Racial Bias in Arizona Special Education, which found that predominantly white Arizona school districts labeled significantly higher percentages of minority students as disabled than did minority school districts. Using 2000-2001 data, the study showed that school districts with predominantly white student bodies had Hispanic disability rates that were 47 percent higher than the Hispanic disability rates in predominantly minority districts. The study posited several possible explanations for this pattern, including perverse financial incentives, segregationist impulses, and desire on the part of districts to inflate standardized test results.
PHOENIX-In a policy brief released today by the Goldwater Institute, Children First America vice president Matthew Ladner identifies 40 Arizona school districts and charter schools with unusually high Hispanic special education rates. "This is further evidence of a disturbing pattern," Ladner says. "Nationwide, schools are mislabeling minority children as disabled and wrongly assigning them to special education programs."
Like America's horse of the moment, Seabiscuit, Arizona's students may be underdogs, but they are not underachievers. In recently released Stanford 9 results, students surpassed national averages. Even students who have yet to cross the finish line are still very much in the race. And much credit is due to involved parents, committed principals, and dedicated teachers for encouraging children to perform.
Call it the Sleeping Beauty Syndrome: a lonely schoolgirl raised on Disney movies dreams of a knight in shining armor who will enter her life in a dashing whirl and save her from boredom, poverty and solitude. For schoolgirls, it's a harmless fantasy. But when Arizona policymakers begin dreaming that a knight in biotech armor will save the state economy, the fantasy may be very costly.
When I saw House Speaker Jake Flake at a barbeque the other day, I asked him why he was supporting the Legislature's bid to spend $800 million on research labs at Arizona universities. He told me what any rancher knows: to get growth, you have to put a bull in the pen with the cows.
The editors of The Business Journal let readers down with their editorial "Naysayers won't help cause" (4/25/03), which condemned a forthcoming Goldwater Institute study they had neither seen, nor read. At best, commenting on unseen research is unprofessional. At worst, it is an abuse of public trust. Readers of The Journal should be able to expect, at a minimum, that the editors have earnestly reviewed the material under discussion.