by David Safier
Last Saturday, I was on Robin Hiller's State of Education radio show on KVOI. For the last 10 minutes, Robin and I talked about tuition tax credits, beginning with GEICO's "generous $8 million donation" in corporate tuition tax credits, which in fact cost GEICO nothing — not one penny — while we taxpayers picked up the entire tab. More on this in an earlier post.
The show after Robin's in Emil Franzi's Inside Track. Franzi had Bruce Ash on as co-host, and Ash spent the beginning of the show disputing what I said: "David Safier was either intentionally misleading listeners, or he didn't know what the heck he's talking about."
Mostly, Ash talked about the wonderful work Bank of Tucson did by "investing" about a million-and-a-half dollars in the kids at Tucson's San Miguel High School, a private Catholic school. The only comment directed at what I said was, "These were not rich kids, they were not Jewish kids as Mr. Safier seemed to intimate." Now, I'll give Ash the benefit of the doubt and assume he garbled that sentence a bit — it happens when you're talking off the cuff — since I never mentioned Jewish kids (though I would like Mr. Ash to explain whether he was intimating in that statement that this Jew is anti-Semitic). However, Ash is right to say not all kids who receive tuition tax credits are rich. As a matter of fact, corporate tax credits can only go to kids from low income families. But personal tax credits can go to anyone, and that means kids from wealthy families can have their entire private school tuitions at the most expensive schools paid for by these backdoor vouchers — which you and I pay for, since the "donors" get 100% of their money back at tax time.
Now here's where Ash was "either intentionally misleading listeners, or he didn't know what the heck he was talking about," as he said I was doing. Ash said the Bank of Tucson "invested nearly a million-and-a-half dollars in these kids at that school over about a half a decade." In fact, the bank didn't invest a penny in those kids when it gave tuition tax credit dollars to the School Tuition Organizations (STO) that funneled it to San Miguel High. What the Bank of Tucson did was pay less in taxes to the State of Arizona than it owed, a dollar less for every dollar it "invested" in tuition tax credits. In essence, the bank said to Arizona's taxpayers, "I'm ordering you to use one-and-a-half million dollars of state money to pay for vouchers for kids going to San Miguel High." There is absolutely no generosity involved in "donating" someone else's money.
I don't want to leave the impression that I'm knocking San Miguel High. It looks like a good school with an excellent mission. I can't say how well it succeeds at its mission, however, since the only comparative standard we have is the AIMS test, and so far as I know, the students at the school don't take the AIMS test. In fact, we have no idea how well the voucher kids who get tax credit dollars or Empowerment Scholarship dollars are doing. The Republicans who worship the scores from high stakes tests when it comes to judging the quality of public schools apparently don't think taxpayer funded students at private schools need to take the tests.
Ash ended his diatribe with a condemnation of public education which is possibly misleading, though I think in this case, he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. Ash said, "Clearly public education is failing this country and failing our kids." Nearly every study done since research conducted by George W. Bush's Department of Education, including the Bush DOE research, has concluded that there is little or no difference between the achievement of similar students in traditional public schools, charter schools and private schools. If Mr. Ash has a body of scholarly evidence that comes to a different conclusion, I hope he'll bring it forward.