Guest Commentary by John Wright: Voucher Legislation in Arizona

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The Arizona legislature is
trying to damage public education again by introducing irresponsible
legislation to create vouchers, all in the name of change or reform.  Download a summary of Arizona education voucher bills this session. (PDF)

In
recent years "change" in education has been defined, by conservative
proponents of vouchers, as providing a small percentage of parents an
opportunity to choose a private institution over a public school for their
child.  Parents are free to make choices for their family however; this
choice should never be made at the expense of Arizona’s taxpayers.   

Any
"change" instituted by allowing vouchers would mean draining funding
from our public schools.  Vouchers increase public education costs by
requiring taxpayers to fund two school systems, one public and one private.
Statistics show that vouchers generally go to children who were never in public
schools, thus taxpayers are paying their tuition.

Vouchers
undermine accountability for public funds.  Private schools have almost
complete autonomy with regard to how they operate – who they teach, what they
teach, how they teach, how they measure student achievement, how they manage
their finances, and what they choose to disclose to parents and the
public. 

Those
public school students who use vouchers run into exclusionary admission
policies at parochial and private schools. Catholic schools turn away nearly
two out of three applicants. Exclusive private schools reject nine out of 10
applicants. 

A great
education should never be considered an option or "choice."
Every child has the fundamental right to a quality education.  Vouchers
will only increase the disparity by draining our already inadequate resources
from public school classrooms for a very small percentage of Arizona’s students.

If it is
change that Arizona
wants we’ve got some suggestions:

  • Reduce class sizes so that teachers have a manageable number of students in classrooms
  • Provide adequate funding for programs that support all students’ desire to achieve a high level of performance
  • Provide time for teaching professionals to collaborate with their colleagues when determining instructional curriculum
  • Create a Professional Standards Board that addresses professional development, teaching standards, and teacher assessment 
  • Establish a living wage for education support professionals who ensure that our students arrive at school safely, eat a healthy lunch, and learn in a clean and comfortable environment

For Arizona to achieve these
and many other necessary changes it will have to invest in public
education.  Arizona
will have to quit running from its reality.  We live, work, and learn in
the fastest growing state in the nation.  It is time to invest in our
future by investing in public education.

Conservatives
claim that those on the left and/or the "establishment" propose solutions
to address the need for improved student achievement that are meager and much
more expensive.  But, based on the numbers released by EdWeek earlier this
month Arizona
falls $2.7 billion behind the national average in K-12 education
spending.  In the end, if Arizona
chooses not to invest more in education it will harm the future economic status
of our state.

Usually
school choice proponents will say that charter schools and voucher programs are
too new to show the results they’ve promised.  How long is long
enough?  Arizona
is ranked first in the nation for "School Choice."  We’ve given
them their run and it’s not working.

Let’s
try investing adequate resources in public education for a while and see what
happens.  Let’s give Arizona’s
children the state-of-the-art education they deserve, no matter their economic
status or geographic location, two things that will never be accomplished by
offering private school vouchers or charter school alternatives.

Contact
your legislator and tell them that vouchers hurt public schools
.

John Wright is president of the Arizona Education Association and a
certified classroom teacher.  He can be reached by visiting www.arizonaea.org

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you John for so clearly articulating the issue. Vouchers do only drain away the money needed for our public schools. As a special education teacher, I’ve had several students leave our school to attend a charter. Without exception, every one of them has returned! Charter schools do not meet the needs of students with IEPs, and parents quickly find that the promises they were made by the charter school are not fulfilled.

  2. The voucher system is a great suggestion… in the sense that we need to look at different options and assess their viability in order to come up with the best solution possible. Your argument is strong because it not only points out the problems with vouchers, but also provides alternatives. It makes so much sense that instead of taking tax-payer funding and rewarding children who win a lottery, we take tax-payer funding and invest in the schools that are sub-par. This way, everyone benefits, not just a lucky few.

    It seems that those who oppose vouchers suggest that we threaten to take away students and funding if they do not pass a set of tests. How can taking away means for a quality school possibly improve that institution? Rather, I completely agree that we should spend the money as you suggested: reducing class size, starting new programs, holding teachers to higher standards, and also providing the child more than an education.

    Not to say that I cannot see the appeal of vouchers; “school choice” sounds perfectly amazing. It would be great if any child and his parents could choose what school he attends, but that isn’t what the current education vouchers allow. Instead, they give a very small percentage of students that choice, leaving the rest to a disadvantaged school which is going to lose even more funding because of its lack of efficiency. It is as though we are making good schools better and the bad schools worse. Is this fair to those students who are never offered the chance to get out of those bad schools?

    As I mentioned before, we should thank those who support vouchers for helping us better understand what we must do in order to get all schools on the right path. Proponents of the voucher system have good intentions, but their plan falters and leaves us seeking new and better ways to improve schools.

  3. I did’t have the time/patience to read the Arizona education voucher bills so I don’t have a good understanding of how they work.
    I think that taking tax money out of the public school system is a terrible idea; even if we create a few wonderful schools, the majority of children will still attend public schools. Now, inside the school district, sure !!! be creative and inovative, have magnet programs, vocational programms, introduce new methods of teaching, etc and let the kids/parents decide what school they want to go to, nothing wrong with that.
    Get rid of No Child Left Behind! If I hear one more time that it is underfunded… well… it is like saying the war in Iraq is underfunded.

  4. Terrific post, John. You covered a lot of ground and laid out the most important arguments concerning vouchers.

    I have to say, though, that I am not averse to a charter school program that is well run and carefully regulated, which I distinguish from the spend-your-educational-dollars-wherever-you-wish voucher systems. I was always, and continue to be, a strong supporter of teacher unions, but I differ from you on this issue. I want districts to be innovative. I want them to create their own schools-as-educational-laboratories. But my experience is that those hidebound institutions, School Districts, are reluctant to innovate. Truly innovative schools are more likely to happen outside the constraints of traditional school districts.

    Arizona’s Charter School laws are ridiculously lax, and this has led to terrible abuses. But I advocate rethinking the laws as well as funding observers and regulators who can make sure the charter schools are actually serving their students. I’m not ready to get rid of charter schools entirely.

  5. Terrific post, John. You covered a lot of ground and laid out the most important arguments concerning vouchers.

    I have to say, though, that I am not averse to a charter school program that is well run and carefully regulated, which I distinguish from the spend-your-educational-dollars-wherever-you-wish voucher systems. I was always, and continue to be, a strong supporter of teacher unions, but I differ from you on this issue. I want districts to be innovative. I want them to create their own schools-as-educational-laboratories. But my experience is that those hidebound institutions, School Districts, are reluctant to innovate. Truly innovative schools are more likely to happen outside the constraints of traditional school districts.

    Arizona’s Charter School laws are ridiculously lax, and this has led to terrible abuses. But I advocate rethinking the laws as well as funding observers and regulators who can make sure the charter schools are actually serving their students, not getting rid of charter schools.