Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.

Let me be clear from the onset that I am “borrowing” this article. In fact unless the words are in bold italics, they are hers, not mine. I’m hoping the author, Athens Banner-Herald columnist Myra Blackmon, a resident of Washington, Ga., sees my “borrowing” as the “sincerest form of flattery. I chose to use her piece titled “School vouchers raise too many questions,” because I found it both very well written and remarkable in that I needed only change the state name and some of the numbers to make it apply to Arizona.

With the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as U.S. secretary of education, we can expect to see a flurry of new “initiatives” designed to address the so-called education problem in our country. For the moment, let’s set aside the relationship of poverty and poor academic achievement. Ignore for a moment the fact that our schools are actually performing pretty well.

We will likely see a renewed push for voucher programs, where parents can supposedly take the tax money allocated for their children and use it to enroll them in private, religious or charter schools, many of which are combinations of those categories.

If I believed vouchers would improve educational outcomes for Arizona’s poorest children, I would be the first to jump on that bandwagon. The reality is that even vouchers aren’t likely to improve the lives of the 421,000 Arizona children who live in poor or low-income families, despite efforts of reformers to convince us otherwise.

First, the average worth of  $5,600 for mainstream students that vouchers provide just isn’t enough to fully fund private school tuition. I chose not to spend an hour looking at websites (as Myra did) of private schools in all parts of the state to determine the range of tuition, but did find a school in Phoenix that charges $24,000 a year, and the average school tuition is almost $6,000 for elementary, and $18,000 for high schoolDoes this even seem possible for a disadvantaged child, even if a scholarship is available?

Second, not all non-public schools are open to all children. The majority of private schools in Arizona are religious schools, many of which set very strict standards for admission that have little or nothing to do with academic potential. They would exclude children from families of same-sex couples, or families whose moral standards are, in the judgment of the school, not consistent with the school’s values. That might exclude children whose parents are not married, or who were behavioral problems at their previous school.

Third, few private schools provide special education. Of those that do, many limit that special education to mild learning disabilities, or limit them to mild ADHD or other learning differences. Many private special education schoolsdon’t address severe or complex disabilities. Only public schools are required to meet all those needs. In fact, when Arizona parents pull their children out of district schools to educate them with a voucher, they must waive their rights under federal special education law.”

Fourth, even if a voucher covered tuition at a private school, it would be almost impossible to include allowances for additional fees that would allow the poorest children to attend. Lab fees, textbooks, materials fees and technology fees add up. I found more than one school where those items quickly totaled more than $1,000 a year. And that didn’t include trips – sometimes mission trips in religious schools – or athletic fees, which also ran into the thousands of dollars. What about these costs?

Fifth, about 10 percent of Arizona’s schools are rural schools…with some children on buses more than 60 minutes each way every day. And those are the public schools. Private schools can be even more distant. For public schools, transportation is provided. Bus fees for private schools could run several hundred dollars a year. Who covers this?

And what about homeless students? According to New Leaf, a mesa non-profit human services organization, about 3 percent of Arizona students – nearly 30,000 children – were homeless in 2016. In fact, the National Center on Family Homelessness ranks Arizona as worst for risk of child homelessness. Do you really see these children as able to take advantage of vouchers?

Seventh, I found listings for many private religious schools that enroll fewer than 100 students and have only two or three teachers. Would a voucher to such a school improve a student’s chances over even the most poorly resourced public school? I doubt it.

The bottom line is that vouchers help middle-class families who can almost-but-not-quite afford private school tuition. Those are also the children who score best on standardized tests.

Vouchers help segregate those families from the poor and different in their communities. They isolate students from daily contact with needy families or children from unusual families. Some charge their students for “mission” work, which is a completely different dynamic in relationships with people different from us.

I simply do not see how vouchers for private schools, unregulated and not accountable to any elected officials, can do anything but set up our public schools as the place for the poorest, neediest and most severely disabled students.

That is wrong. I know it. You know it. Yes we do Myra, and that’s what the “something blue” in the title of this post refers to. This kind of misery shouldn’t have any kind of company. 

16 Responses to Something Borrowed, Something Blue

  1. John Huppenthal

    Steve Jobs stands as the ultimate school choice example. His district school in California was the scene of a bus burning, a gang rape and had students bringing knives to school.

    He gave his parents an ultimatum – move him or he would drop out of school.

    To achieve school choice, his middle class parents had to go deep into debt to buy a new home.

    That new school district was where he met Wozniak and together they created the world’s first trillion dollar corporation. It was also where his philosophy teacher taught him the art of abstraction, a technique he used to revolutionize six industries.

    What about all the poor and minority students he left behind? Screw them right? Just as long as you got yours – right Ed?

    Quit talking about “reform”. District education is a total dead end for poor and minority students and “reform” just makes it worse.

    The most recent data is so bad that it has become politically incorrect, toxic even to publish it.

    Metlife discontinued their annual teacher job satisfaction survey after the percent very satisfied plunged to a thirty year low in 2012.

    Phi Delta Kappa fired the Gallup organization and discontinued the question after the percentage of parents rating their child’s school an “A” fell to a 47 year low in 2015.

    The productivity of education in America has fallen 15% since 2000, 5% since 2011 alone.

    Speak no evil, hear no evil, say no evil. You all are guilty of willful blindness.

    Meanwhile, the education focus of families is higher than ever before. The percentage of children who can read before entering school has increased from 3% to 22%, a remarkable increase just since 2008.

    You all should ask yourself – are we white supremacists perpetuating a white supremacist system?

  2. I read a story recently, I think in the New York Times, that reported that three independent studies done in Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio of the outcomes produced by private schools that accepted vouchers actually managed to reduce the achievement levels of both elementary and secondary age students. I’m sure that’s not the whole picture but it certainly casts doubt on the value of private schools.

  3. if you cared as much for coal miners losing their jobs in western pennsylvania and working class losing their good paying manufacturing jobs in wisconsin michigan and almost minnesota they might not have voted for trump and you wouldn’t need to worry about voucher. this identity politics have cost the democratic party dearly. the clintonista tom perez getting elected only makes the problem worse! don’t expect other to care about your problem when you don’t care about theirs.

    • Give me a freakin’ break censored! Don’t use “You” in writing to my post as if I am either 1) the Democratic Party or 2) Hillary Clinton. I care about a many things, but have had to limit myself mostly to education because I just can’t maintain that same level of intensity for every issue I care about. In fact, since you brought it up, I have almost been feeling a little silly lately for being so focused on “just” education. I mean, when the AZ Legislature is trying to make it legal for the state to seize all my assets just because I planned a protest or participated in one, that seems to a more clear and present danger than vouchers. Truth is though, that it is all bad. And, education isn’t just MY PROBLEM! It is all of our problem. What will our country look like when the vast majority of our youth don’t know how to run it?

      How’s about trying to be part of the solution instead of just tearing down those who are?

      • hi linda. the point I am making is effectiveness. I want to non violently hit back not complain. I look for weakness in the enemy.hit back at kavenaugh where he is vulnerable his voters. I will not sit on a federal jury until mrs. garcia rays

        h linda. I am trying to be part of the solution. I want to strike back not non violently complain. I want to hit kavenaugh where he is vulnerable his voters!I am refusing to sit on federal jurys until mrs. garcia rayos. is returned to her family. if this protester law is passed I all not sit on state jurys either! if every democrat did this we could cause consternation if not a crisis. the last election showed are vulnerability. the education lobby has to much to lose and think whinning is much safer.

  4. “They isolate students from daily contact with needy families or children from unusual families.

    Why is it considered a good thing for children to have daily contact with needy families or children from unusual families?

    • I’m not going to try to speak for anyone, but I think it does some good to be exposed to a broader range of people than just those very similar to you, because it teaches understanding and empathy.

      Imagine that you are someone like me – your parents are relatively well-off, and are in a generally stable relationship. You never went to fancy private school, but you went to good public schools in the suburbs, and then your parents were able to help you pay for college, along with the scholarships you earned in-part, because you were able to be academically successful because you could study and take special classes to do better on the SAT’s that not everyone could afford.

      But if that’s all you know, it’s not going to be easy to relate to people with different experiences as you. It’s not going to be easy to understand why people can’t afford rent, when it never occurs to you that a lot of 25-30 year old people have a mortgage-sized student loan payment that someone fortunate like myself doesn’t have to worry about.

      Or, to state this in terms that might relate better, if I grew up in one medium-sized city (Tulsa, OK), moved to a different one (Tucson, AZ), have never really had any interaction with criminal elements, am not enlisted, nor have any of my immediate family members ever served in the armed forces, and I don’t have a family to worry about, of course I’m going to see gun ownership as some fringe position and that guns are a violent instrument of murder and school shootings. But, of course, there’s a lot more to that issue. Not just that some people have personally been victimized and feel the need for protection, but that in some rural areas, you might well need a firearm to defend your home from wild animals, and the sheriff’s office may take 45 minutes to get to your home if there’s some drug-addled trespasser.

      One of the arguments in favor of democracy as an institution is the idea that the collective wisdom of the crowd aggregates a lot of disparate information and is generally good at making decisions, better than just relying on a single dictator to decide everything based on their own particular judgment. But I think that if we isolate ourselves into little information bubbles, we really negate those benefits of learning from and trying to understand other people’s experiences. Is that not at least part of why someone who identifies with conservative-leaning politics is a frequent commenter on this left-leaning blog?

      • Beautifully stated Edward. I firmly believe district public schools, the ones that take all comers, are the key to ameliorating the polarization ruining our democracy (or republic if that makes one happier.)

      • APPLAUSE!!

        Well said, Edward.

      • Thank you for another eloquent and evocative explanation of why you think it is important for children in school to be in contact with poor families and families with alternative family situations. You make your case very well. However, I disagree with you. Big surprise, huh?

        I see it as another case of forcing children to grow up faster than they should and another case where the left is working on indoctrinating children with leftist ideologies. There is no nobility in poverty and a child being forced to confront poverty so early in life because the left thinks it is a good idea is ridiculous. It is also not necessary to expose children to homosexuality, transgender issues and other assorted alternative lifestyles at the same time they are learning to read and write. The early sexualization of our children is possibly the worst crime we have committed against our children in the last forty years.

        I worked hard to protect my children from the roughness of life when they were growing up and I did not appreciate the schools making a concerted effort to undermine me in that by deliberately exposing the children to the harsh realities of life. I thought they should have time to be children and NOT be part of some leftist social experiment in tolerance. That is why my children went to private schools. That is why my grandchildren go to private schools.

        “Is that not at least part of why someone who identifies with conservative-leaning politics is a frequent commenter on this left-leaning blog?”

        I assume you are referring to me, and if so, you are absolutely correct. I do seek out different opinions and perspectives because I think it broadens my own perspectives. But I am an adult and that makes a big difference. When my grandchildren are older, I have them go with me when I volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, and St. Mary’s Food Bank. I think that, as an older child, they are better able to grasp the significance of what is they see and better understand it.

        Anyway, I really do appreciate your explanation of why you think it is important for children to have broad exposure to different people. As a parent it is a decision you can make when the time comes. I just see it differently.

        • Steve, I don’t think anyone should fault you for putting your children in private schools; I’m certainly not going to do so. You did what you believed would contribute to the best outcomes for your children and grandchildren, with the resources at your disposal. I think any parent would do the same thing. My parents did. I never went to private schools, but my parents did move to the suburbs to attend the better-funded schools there. And one of my sisters did go to a charter school in order to help accommodate her learning disabilities which couldn’t be accommodated through the public school system; the original intent of ESA’s and a function which I do support.

          Unfortunately, for people like me who are running for office, we don’t have the luxury of only caring about your children (or any one particular family’s children) to the exclusion of all others. It is necessary, I think, to make those hard choices/votes sometimes to act in the best interest of society, or at least, the interests of all of your constituents.

          You know as well as I do that not everyone has the time and money for those options to be available to them. I don’t really want to return to the days where kids started working on the farm at age 6, or were working in a factory for 20 cents an hour at age 10, because education and formal schooling was the privilege of families who could afford to invest in their children’s educations.

          Education is one of the best investments that we can make as a society. A dollar spent in education yields several dollars in benefits down the line (lower crime rates, higher incomes / tax revenues, greater GDP, etc.) I don’t want to see the children whose families don’t have the resources that you and your family did, to get poor educational opportunities because public schools have been continuously gutted. I do think that that is a very likely outcome if Arizona keeps on down its current course of school privatization. So, yes, it is difficult. How do we ensure that the less fortunate among us receive a chance to get a good education and become economically successful. There isn’t an easy answer to that question.

          • As usual, Edward, another excellent posting!

            ”Unfortunately, for people like me who are running for office, we don’t have the luxury of only caring about your children (or any one particular family’s children) to the exclusion of all others.

            You seem like a decent man. I hate to see what politics is going to do to you. It is a dog eat dog world where, sadly, decent people don’t seem to do well. They usually become crass and cynical over time…especially when they go for higher office. You genuinely won’t have time and energy to deal with everyone and their requests, so I suspect you will(or your aides will see that you) eventually begin dealing primarily with supporters and not so much with those who don’t support you. It would (will?) be a shame if that happened.

        • Hi Steve. I also appreciate hearing your thoughts via your comments on this blog and agree with some, but certainly not all. Case in point is your claim that the “left is working on indoctrinating children with leftist ideologies.” What your refer to as “leftist ideologies” I would call concern for and empathy with, other people. As for there being no nobility in poverty, yes, that is true, but neither should there necessarily be shame. Not everyone who is poor is there because they are too lazy and just wouldn’t expend the effort to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” And no matter why the parents are poor, it isn’t the child’s fault!!! As for it not being “necessary to expose children to homosexuality, transgender issues and other assorted alternative lifestyles”, I recommend you open up your heart just a little. 1. Young children aren’t focused on these issues and older ones usually don’t care half as much as the adults who have a problem with it. 2. Gay children have 4 times the suicide rate of straight children and transgender children 10 times the rate. Our concern for these “alternative lifestyles” should focus on the human, not their sexuality. 3. If I understand your words properly, you sent your children and are sending your grandchildren to private schools so they don’t have to learn to be tolerant? Wow, that’s a low bar. How about just accepting others and their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness on their own terms?

          By the way, I am married to a woman. I was also married to a man for eight years. I know telling you this will probably make you disregard everything I wrote above, but I do have a little experience in this area.

    • Edward’s reply to you was superb. I would just add: because to care about one another, we have to understand one another. Although very rich people often get a really bad rap about not caring for their fellow man, I think some of it is just because they have no clue how the average guy lives. It is easy therefore, for them to not give a second thought to those who don’t have what they have. We should care about each other, shouldn’t we?

      • I responded to Edward and his excellent message he posted, so I won’t repeat any of that here. I always enjoy his writings because he is thorough, concise and quite eloquent. I don’t usually agree with him, but it is a pleasure to read what he has to say. Sort of like reading the things you post, Linda.

        “We should care about each other, shouldn’t we?”

        We should, indeed. I just don’t want the youngest children being pushed into the harsher side of life so early in their young lives. They deserve the opportunity to be children first.