I have made these constitutional arguments about public education in Arizona for years, but it’s nice to see The Republic’s Linda Valdez write an opinion that contextualizes the constitutional arguments in the current debate over public education in Arizona.
Well done, Linda! Who cares what Arizona’s Constitution says about education? Not Republicans:
There must have been a vote to change the state Constitution. Right?
Why else would Arizona’s schools be so poorly funded? Why else would our state be barreling down the road to a two-tier, have-and-have-not school system?
How else could the conservative officeholders of Arizona – who vow to uphold the state Constitution – so blithely flout the spirit and text of that document?
So there must have been a vote. And we all missed it.
There’s a reason this is all we can afford
This is the only explanation for what’s going on – unless, of course, our fearless leaders are pursuing a different agenda.
Consider that Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed (minuscule) funding increases for K-12 public schools were offered in the context of current revenues. It’s all we can afford, we were told, given fiscal realities.
Like the little guy in the top hat emptying out his pockets in the Monopoly game: We’re broke.
Sure we are. We’re broke because of years of serial tax cuts and an unconstitutional aversion to raising taxes.
Competing to have the worst funded public schools in the nation is the choice of Arizona’s elected officials.
Whose choice matters most?
Traditional public schools remain the choice of most Arizona parents.
Guess who’s winning?
The Constitution is on the side of the people. It mandates a “system of common schools” that are “open to all pupils” and are “as nearly free as possible.” (Article XI, Section 6)
The Constitution also says: “(T)he Legislature shall provide by law for an annual tax sufficient, with other sources of revenue, to defray the necessary ordinary expenses of the state . . . “ (Article IX, Section 3)
Article XI, Section 10 calls for “taxation” to “insure proper maintenance of all state educational institutions.”
Never mind what the Constitution says
So what do our intrepid lawmakers do?
In addition to underfunding traditional public education, our GOP lawmakers continue diverting money from public schools to private and religious schools.
That’s despite Article XI, Section 7, which says “No sectarian instruction shall be imparted in any school or State educational institution . . .”
This year’s expansion of publicly funded vouchers for private and religious schools came despite strong evidence that the program contributes to a two-tier system that is nowhere mentioned in the Arizona Constitution.
A better solution: Help failing schools
An investigation by The Republic’s Rob O’Dell and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez found that 75 percent of the money diverted from public schools by this year’s voucher program came from higher-performing schools in wealthy areas.
The program was created in 2011 and touted as a way to let the poor escape failing schools.
The constitutional solution to that problem would have been to fund and improve those failing schools, but lawmakers decided on diverting public money instead.
The great promise of a good public school system is that any kid can get a good education, no matter how poor, disinterested or distracted his or her parents might be.
We don’t give public schools proper credit
What’s more, our public schools are not as bad as some of their opponents like to pretend.
According to Dan Hunting of the Morrison Institute, Arizona is the only state to show statistically significant increases in National Assessment of Educational Progress scores in fourth- and eighth-grade math, science and reading between 2009 and 2015.
Our public schools are performing better than expected on a starvation diet. Imagine if they got a few good meals.
Instead, lawmakers continue building a two-tier school system.
Their goal: Publicly fund private school
This year’s voucher expansion began as a move to make a publicly funded private education available to any student in the state. Too big a bite. It got scaled back after howls of protest.
But the real intentions – and the agenda – were made clear by the puppeteers at the Goldwater Institute, who sent out a back-slapping celebratory letter right after the vote.
“Fifty years in the making, and tonight we closed the deal!” Goldwater CEO Darcy Olsen wrote. “Universal education savings accounts. There is a cap at 5,000 new kids per year; we will get it lifted.”
Never mind what the Constitution says
The crowing was so bitterly criticized by supporters of our constitutionally mandated public schools that Goldwater apologized, and some lawmakers acted shocked – Shocked! – that their puppet masters would say such a thing out loud.
But Goldwater couldn’t pull off this continued march to privatize public education unless our conservative lawmakers broke their oath and ignored the state Constitution – year after year after year.
Certainly they would never do that.
So there must have been a vote to change the Constitution.
I just don’t remember it. Do you?
Unanswered Question: When will the first lawsuit be filed against this unconstitutional “vouchers for all” bill, and who will be the plaintiffs filing it? I assume that it is already in the works and the litigants are just waiting for the appropriate time to announce the lawsuit.