More Fool’s Gold: Ed tax credits save us money

by David Safier

Matthew Ladner of the Goldwater Institute put together "10 Myths about Arizona Education" to, in his words, "separate the reality of education funding in Arizona from several often publicized myths." As usual, he mixes truth with fiction and apple-facts with orange-statistics to create a stew of misinformation that "proves" all is well with Arizona education, and things will get even better if we trim the fat from the public schools and get more kids into private schools.

In typical conservative accuse-the-other-guy-of-what-you're-doing fashion, Ladner, who has been creating myths for years, is calling others myth makers.

In a post yesterday, I de-mythologized his assertion that "Arizona school funding ranks in the middle of the states at more than $9,000 per student per year."

Today I want to go after his take on tuition tax credits. According to Ladner, the tax credit money that helps pay private school tuition actually saves the state money.

Here's what he says:

Myth No. 4: Suspending the tax credit for donations toward private school tuition would save money and mitigate the need for education budget cuts.
Fact: Getting children into private schools with $1,000 of foregone tax revenue costs less than the $9,000 spent on a child in the public school system. To save money, the Legislature should expand the private school scholarship tax credit and move more children from public to private schools. Suspending it will disrupt these students’ educations and increase costs to the state as children return to public schools.

Let me explain how individual tuition tax credits work. Basically, they're a way for people who already send their kids to private school to have the state pick up part of the tab. In other words, the tax credits are back door vouchers or, as one educational writer calls them, neo-vouchers.

Anyone who pays taxes can take $500 ($1,000 for a couple) and send it to a Student Tuition Organization (STO) to be used as scholarship money by a private school. Since the taxpayer gets 100% of the money back from taxes due, it costs the taxpayer nothing. Because the money would otherwise go into the state coffers, in a real sense, the state is paying for private school scholarships.

The scholarships can go to anyone who attends private schools. Millionaires can get tax credit scholarships for their kids, because there is no means testing built into the law. And people who send their kids to private schools already can get scholarships, because there is no stipulation that the students getting the scholarships were previously in public schools.

So in theory, tax dollars can go to help people send their kids to private schools even if they can afford it themselves, and even if they were already sending them to private schools. But is that what really happens?

Apparently, yes. Because, amazingly, people can "recommend" that their tax credit dollars be used to give a scholarship to a certain individual. It can't be their own kids. But the Smiths can "recommend" their credits go to the Jones' kids, and vice versa. And grandma and grandpa Jones, as well as aunts, uncles, friends and neighbors can also "recommend" the money goes to the Jones' kids.

Are the recommendations honored?

Apparently yes. I spoke with a gentleman who works for one of the STOs. He told me about 80% of the tax credits the organization receives have recommendations attached, and he said they are generally honored.

So when Ladner says individual tuition tax credits save taxpayers money, he's lying (or, to be generous, half-truthing) and he knows it. A large portion of the money goes to children who otherwise wouldn't cost the state a penny because their parents were already sending them to private schools.

By the way, I can't give you hard figures about the incomes of people who get the scholarships. No one can. The law says private schools don't have to report who is receiving the tax credit money.

AN IN-THE-INTEREST-OF-HONESTY ADDITION: Unlike the Goldwater folks, I try not to skew my information by leaving out items that don't fit my thesis. So here's a side note about corporate tax credits to show that they actually are distributed in a more sensible fashion than individual tax credits.

Unlike individual educational tax credits, the corporate ones are means tested. I believe they can only go to families whose incomes are within 185% of the poverty level. And they can only go to "switchers" — children who were previously in public school — or children entering kindergarten. I still think it's a bad program, and it can be gamed fairly easily, but at least the scholarships can't go to rich folks who are already sending their kids to private schools. (The reason for the restrictions is, the corporate tax credits came on Napolitano's watch. She shouldn't have approved them, but at least she made sure there were reasonable restrictions put on them.)

30 responses to “More Fool’s Gold: Ed tax credits save us money

  1. Diane Hanfmann

    Would this discussion be an appropriate place to update the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision that vouchers are unconstitutional? Florida reached the same conclusion. Florida funds public ed so poorly that we failed to qualify for stimulus money. We have to try via a waiver. Beware of Florida.

  2. Mr. Ladner.

    Before I address your main point, I want to make sure you understand that the question of whether it costs more or less to send students to public school or send them to private school with tuition credits is not the main issue for me. I’m a proud tax and spend liberal (Tax in a way that those who can most afford it carry their appropriate share of the burden, and spend in a way that combines generosity and wisdom). If I thought spending public funds on private education were a good idea, the cost differential wouldn’t matter too much. I happen to think it’s a bad idea.

    The original purpose of this post was to refute your statement that the tax credits save money, not to say that’s the most important determinant whether they’re a good or a bad idea.

    Now, to the logic. I’ve seen no hard numbers from you that indicate how many students would leave private schools if they didn’t get the tuition tax credit. So far as I can tell, you’re indulging in a hypothetical, saying you’re pretty sure a lot of those students would leave. Yet if 85% who get the tax credit scholarships were already in private school and received them because others “recommended” that the money be used for their benefit, I don’t see where you’re deriving your hypothetical mass exodus from.

    (If we’re talking hypotheticals, I’ll posit that, if there were not ed tax credits, private schools would work harder to get private donations which would help some of the needier students stay in those schools. I have no evidence, but it’s a reasonable supposition.)

    On the other hand, I put together some pretty credible math that puts an approximate figure of $12,000 in tax credit dollars spent on every student who switches from public school to private school. To say my math, based on real figures, isn’t relevant while your hypothetical based on conjecture is what we should focus on . . . that’s not very convincing.

    Let’s go back to my original statement, that your “Fact” about tuition tax credits is not a fact at all. You really can’t prove it. And when you state something as Fact to contradict a myth, the burden of proof is on you.

  3. Matthew Ladner

    Mr. Safier-

    This is not at all the case. The only thing that is relevant in the current discussion is how many of these students would no longer remain in private school if the credit were eliminated, and how much taxpayers send out to educate children in public schools compared to the amount of foregone revenue from tax credits.

    The logic of this is straightforward: you want to eliminate the credit and you claim that it will save the state money to do so. You need to know three bits of information: how much revenue per pupil is forgone ($1,800), what is the cost of educating the child per pupil in the public school (much more than $1,800) and how many children will drop out of school absent the scholarship.

  4. Mr. Ladner.

    How can you possibly say the number of students who went from public to private school is irrelevant? If we’re talking about how much the state shells out, if the state pays tuition for students whose parents would otherwise pay for it themselves or be helped by privately funded scholarships, that’s money it wouldn’t otherwise spend. So the number of switchers vs. students who are already in private school is right at the center of the discussion of whether the program costs or saves the state money.

    I think you want to eliminate the switch/non-switch statistic because it refutes your basic argument. I would say it is you, not me, who is out on a limb on this issue.

  5. Matthew Ladner

    Mr. Safier-

    The number of students who originally switched from public to private school is not relevant to our current discussion. I have claimed that getting rid of the credit would cost the state money. You have claimed that it would save the state money.

    The only relevant factors then are- how much is the average scholarship, how much does it cost to send a child to a public school in Arizona, and how many students currently receiving a scholarship would likely return to public schools in the event that the credit were eliminated?

    All that we can really know about this is: scholarships are much lower than public school costs, lots of scholarships go to children of modest means, and the scholarships represent a substantial portion of the average tuition cost.

    Therefore, it seems to me that you are out on a limb if what you want to claim is that Arizona lawmakers could eliminate the tax credit and save the state money in the process.

  6. Mr. Safier-

    Your statement:
    “We’re getting very deep in the numerical weeds here, which is always dangerous, because the more complex the numbers become, the more difficult it is to find errors in reasoning.”

    I believe that’s what Mr. Ladner is hoping for. Because the deeper you drill down into the data, the more it supports your argument instead of Mr. Ladner’s. Numbers don’t lie, but people do.

    It’s quite easy to take a set of numbers and simplify it down and say things like “$2 > $1”. Of course, no one can argue against 2 being more than 1. If you dig deeper, you see that it’s just a sleight of hand and the real numbers are underneath.

    As ParentX points out in the other article, once you start looking at the whole picture or just what is going on in your neighborhood, most of the “school choice” argument as they have framed it just falls apart.

    That’s the sad thing about this whole issue. You could easily find dozens of valid reasons to support a voucher program that would benefit kids, but the reasons they choose to use just fall apart under examination or have terribly obvious secondary motives.

    I wrestled in junior-high & high school. None of the public schools anywhere near my district had wrestling. When kids go to nationals or the Olympics, everyone in their community gets excited about it. I knew kids who went to other private schools because of volleyball, track & field, theatre or music programs that were unavailable in their areas. One parent I knew put her son into a private school because of harassment he was getting at the public school and the school employees were not doing enough for his safety. I met a 14-year old girl who knew from the time she 5 years old that she wanted to be a nun. Education isn’t like a widget coming off of an assembly line and it shouldn’t be treated that way. If those are things that help develop our kids, then I’d be happy to fund them. So would many other taxpayers.
    I know when it came to my development & growth through school that wrestling > chemistry class (and a slew of other classes I can’t even remember).

  7. Mr. Ladner.

    We’re getting very deep in the numerical weeds here, which is always dangerous, because the more complex the numbers become, the more difficult it is to find errors in reasoning.

    First, I’m going to ignore your last paragraph about how I want to ruin the lives of all these children by transplanting them. If you want to start a completely new thread that goes off into the area of who cares more about kids and their educations, that’s fine, but it’s pretty far afield right now. Let me just say I’m not offended, only amused you would use an argument like that against someone who was an underpaid public school teacher for 30 plus years and whose students would certainly attest to my passion for the quality of their educations.

    Before I approach these numbers from a different direction, let me say that this statement you made, if I read it correctly, is pretty deceptive: “the individual credit raises 1% of the money of the school districts but helps to educate 3% of the kids.” I think you’re saying 3% of Arizona’s students receive tax credits, yet it only costs 1% of the entire education budget. We’ve already decided that a number of those students receiving the tax credit money were already in private schools, so, assuming the money going to those students would not have been paid for by the state if it weren’t for tuition tax credits, your comparison of the two figures is reasonably meaningless. It needs to be broken down much further.

    But now, let me put two numbers you and I have been talking about together and see what conclusions I can reach. You say the average amount of a credit-based scholarship is $1,800. I have read that only 15% of the students receiving credit-based scholarships are “switchers” who were previously in public schools. That means only 15% of those receiving the $1,800 are actually people who otherwise would have been using state money for their educations.

    15% of the students is one out of every 6.6 students. So to find out how much each one of those switchers costs the state, we have to multiply their credit-based scholarship of $1,800 by 6.6. That comes to about $12,000. Calculating things that way, the state pays $12,000 for every credit-scholarship student who would otherwise be in public school.

    If you like, you can divide $1,800 by .15. You’ll get the same result: $12,000.

    Based on this calculation, depending which figure you use to determine how much it costs to have a pupil in public school, yours at $9,000 or the more commonly used figure of about $6,000, the tax credit costs between 150% and 200% more than what it would cost to keep that child in public school.

    All these numbers, yours and mine, are very approximate. As stephen431 said in the last comment, the numbers have to be broken down much further to make sense.

    Let me give just one example. In TUSD, where there is diminishing enrollment, putting another student in an underenrolled school doesn’t amount to the full per student cost for a variety of reasons having to do with economies of scale. The places where the most money is saved by a student going into private schools are where there is lots of population growth which means new schools have to be built at great expense. But the availability of private schools is greater in Tucson than in outlying areas, which means fewer students will be able to take advantage of a private school scholarship.

    And one final thing. Remember, my concerns with both tax credits and vouchers aren’t mainly about finances. The reason we’re making such a big deal about the money aspect is that my original posts questioned “Facts” you have put together which are supposed to be dispelling myths, and the two facts I focused on are about finances. When you state something is a “Fact,” especially a fact that is supposed to correct a myth, you set a pretty high bar to leap over. My assertion from the beginning is that your “Facts” actually play a bit fast and loose with the facts. Too often you try to sneak under the bar when no one is looking.

  8. “It really pretty simple: $6k > $1,800” – Not so simple…..

    Mr. Ladner-

    Again, you’re being a bit, um, “liberal” with your numbers.

    Especially for those of us who know the difference between fixed costs & variable costs.

    You can do better than that….

    Break out your real numbers please. The ones you use for people who didn’t suffer a low-ranked Arizona public-school math education.

  9. Matthew Ladner

    Mr. Safier-

    I looked up the number during our conversation, and it was $1,800. Since $1,800 is the average number it is the appropriate one to use.

    The issue of how many of the students were switchers is not the only one, or the most relevant one. You are proposing to eliminate the credit. The issue at hand then is: how many of the students receiving scholarships would drop out of private school and attend public school if the credit were eliminated?

    I’ve provided an average tuition figure from our survey above, and according to me excel spreadsheet, eliminating the scholarship would mean a 41% increase in tuition cost for students with an average scholarship attending an average private school.

    Further, I have related that a good deal of the students in the program have family incomes falling below a means test: a minimum of 41% of the scholarships based on three STOs, with the actual number being far higher.

    Next, we have established that the state expense for a child to attend a public school is more than three times greater than the average scholarship.

    Given all of this, I believe that the only way you can assert that eliminating the tax credit would save the state money is by willfully ignoring the evidence at hand. It really pretty simple: $6k > $1,800, many scholarship recipients are from families modest means, the cost increase is large and the price elasticity of demand for private schools is not zero.

    Further, these calculations at the indvidual level are confirmed by the aggregate analysis: the individual credit raises 1% of the money of the school districts but helps to educate 3% of the kids.

    Further I would hope that disrupting the lives of thousands of students out of some sort of misguided ideological bloodlust might be something you would reconsider before carrying through on. You progressives are all about the kids, right?

  10. Mr. Ladner.

    Let me deal specifically with the subject of myth No. 4. My first objection to your “fact” is that you create a misconception and thereby distort the truth. Let’s look at the entire myth/fact passage:

    “Myth No. 4: Suspending the tax credit for donations toward private school tuition would save money and mitigate the need for education budget cuts.
    Fact: Getting children into private schools with $1,000 of foregone tax revenue costs less than the $9,000 spent on a child in the public school system. To save money, the Legislature should expand the private school scholarship tax credit and move more children from public to private schools. Suspending it will disrupt these students’ educations and increase costs to the state as children return to public schools.”

    Your first sentence in the Fact section implies that the two figures in question are $1,000 in tax credit and $9,000 in cost for a child in public school. The clear implication is that a child gets $1,000 in state money to go to private school versus $9,000 to go to public school. In fact, an individual child can get far more than $1,000. The average figure you cite is something like $1,800. Some get less, some get thousands more. So my first problem with your Fact is that it isn’t a fact. It’s an apples and oranges comparison between the maximum amount a husband and wife can contribute and the $9,000 cost you put on public education. If you were being completely honest, you would not have created the illusion that the $1,000 represents the amount that goes to an individual student. You are presenting your statement as Fact. I believe that part of your statement is a distortion of the fact by implying a false comparison.

    As for the question of whether the state would save money by eliminating the individual tax credit, I can’t say for sure, but my answer is, yes, the state would probably save money. If, as a study I read states, only 15% of the students receiving money are students switching from public to private schools, that means that 85% is used for students who would have attended private schools anyway. All the tax credit money, that otherwise have gone into the state coffers, going to those 85% would not have been spent if it weren’t for the tax credit. So it’s very possible that, even if the state saved money on the “switchers,” it lost money overall because of the students already in private schools.

    I don’t know exactly how the figures work out, and I suppose you don’t either, because the law doesn’t require schools to reveal the amount of scholarship money each student receives from the tax credit, let alone any information about the student, such as socioeconomic status or whether he/she is a switcher. My math, however, tells me the program probably ends up costing the state money. How much is pure conjecture.

  11. Matthew Ladner

    Thank you Stephen. I had the opportunity to speak at a legislative candidate training session for the Maricopa County Democratic Party a few years ago. I told the candidates that they had the opportunity to shape choice programs to achieve their goals if they would come to the table. They told me that legislative Republicans didn’t want them at the table. I told I didn’t know whether that was the case or not, but that I sure as hell do. There isn’t any reason for us to accept 44% of our 4th graders being functionally illiterate, and there are many other education reforms in addition to school choice that we should adopt.

    I agree with you that there are many excellent public schools, and some bad private ones. The Ohio program cited in the news story is an interesting case. It is only for students in failing public schools. As you can imagine, students transfer from the worst performing public schools in Ohio into a private school, and then take the state test. Sure enough, they don’t score well. Private school attendance would have to be equivalent to magic tonic for it to be otherwise.

    The law requires an evaluation of student progress over time, but as yet, the Ohio Department of Education is behind schedule in releasing it.

  12. Mr. Ladner-

    I appreciate you posting your thoughts and information in this blog’s comments. You could have simply posted on Townhall. It’s always much easier to speak directly to your supporters than to your opponents.

    I’m not terribly familiar with Florida’s voucher program, but I did attend both public and private Catholic schools in Cincinnati.
    (arguing the merits of pro-choice in a catholic religion class was a severe learning lesson in “judo”)

    My Dad and I would have loved to have this program while I was attending private school. It was a struggle to pay tuition on his single income. I can attest that the private schools in certain areas were much better than their public counterparts. However, Cincinnati also had some outstanding public schools in their magnet school program.

    You can check the data from the article at

    Even ignoring the results of the article, it still likely helped many students. The real lesson of the program is that once the formerly conservative state government lost power and it shifted to the democrats, the program hit the chopping block. Programs like these vouchers can only be permanent if you can get a majority of both parties to agree to them.

    The idea of using vouchers as a tool to provide better education has a lot of merit. If you could write a voucher program that met the requirements of my previous post and had sufficient protection from the fringes, I would stump for your program.

  13. Matthew Ladner

    Mr. Safier-

    The Florida Supreme court did strike down the smallest of three private choice programs- the one for failing schools. A number of studies, including one by the Urban League, found gains associated with that program for students in the failing schools, and a more recent study found that the gains slowed way down after the voucher component went away. On the impact of public schools side of things, it can and has been studied by people on the left and right. A participant study for the corporate tax credit is underway by academics at one of the Florida universities.

    Far larger special needs voucher, corporate tax credit, charter school and virtual schooling programs however survive. Last session a third of the combined Democrat caucus in the Florida legislature voted to expande the corporate tax credit by $30 million.

    Again to return to the real subject of this thread are you or are you not willing to concede that it is not credible to claim that the state can save money by eliminating the individual tax credit?

    After all, I’ve been accused of peddling “fool’s gold.” On your other thread, I was accused of being “intellectually dishonest” for citing a revenue per pupil figure supported by state figures.

    You prize intellectual honesty, I’m curious as to whether or not you are willing to be intellectually honest.

  14. Mr. Ladner.

    This is getting to be a very long, complex thread. Part of the problem is not with us, it’s with the intricacy of the voucher concept. It’s about funding and the separation of church and state and regulating private schools and . . . I’m sure there are issues I’m leaving out.

    That being said, you comment about the improvements in Florida schools. I read your paper on the topic awhile ago (I think you wrote it for G.I., I could be wrong). As I recall, either in your paper or in news articles, the people of Florida voted down the voucher portion of the Florida educational plan. Am I remembering correctly?

    Another thing I remember is that you wrote, there is no way to measure if voucher students did better than similar students who stayed in public school. You speculated that the threat to the public schools that kids would leave them for private schools helped increase achievement in the public schools. It’s pretty much an unprovable idea with no data to back it up. It’s possible it may be true, but it’s not a very sturdy piece of evidence.

    Finally, I recall that Florida had a spike in educational funding during this process, and that spike coincided pretty well with the rise in achievement. Is it possible that the added revenue combined with a focused program to increase student achievement created a valuable result? In other words, did Florida manage to increase public school funding without, to use your term, simply throwing money at education?

    If I have misrepresented your paper, forgive me. I’m writing from memory. Please correct any errors I’ve made here.

  15. Mr. Ladner.

    Back to your comment about my liking the corporate better than the individual tax credit and my use of the judo analogy.

    Let’s start with the judo idea. I think it’s perfectly fair for me to point out what I think are the debating tactics you’re using to show how your arguments are framed. To use an analogy, if two people are on the mat in a fight and one is using greco roman wrestling rules and the other is an extreme fighter who uses a mixture of styles, I’d probably warn the greco roman guy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with extreme fighting, but the other guy had better know it before he gets kicked upside the head. If you think my judo analogy is incorrect, you can show how I’m being unfair, just like you would question any other assertion. But I consider it an important assertion about the nature of the discussion.

    Now, as for the idea of my liking the corporate better than the individual tuition tax credit. I think that’s a distortion to get me in a position of accepting the idea of tax credits. The fact is, I dislike the corporate legislation less, because at least it’s not a giveaway of public funds to people who are already sending their children to private school.

    Another analogy. Let’s say I despise spinach and broccoli, but if I have to eat one, it would be broccoli, because I can get that down without gagging. I think if you said, “So you like broccoli more than spinach,” I’d be worried you were planning to serve me some for dinner. I would correct you and say, “No, I hate both of them. Please don’t put either of them on my plate.”

    But let me turn this around. It seems to me, Mr. Ladner, that you dislike the individual tax credit more than the corporate tax credit. So, since you dislike it, I think we can both agree we should suspend it.

    Is that fair? I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, I think I judoed your position so it looked like you agreed with me, then used it to suggest you might want to suspend the credit. I know, in fact, you like both bills and you don’t want to kill either one of them.

    I dislike both bills, and I would like to see us get rid of them.

  16. Matthew Ladner


    I believe that almost all Americans believe in equality of opportunity and that therefore it is possible to create more of that in education through choice programs, and by other mechanisms. That is not to say that agreeing on such things are easy, but it is possible.

    Florida for instance instituted a set of education reforms in 1999 that included a great deal of choice, but many other vital elements as well. After dramatic improvements, in 2007, their free and reduced lunch eligible Hispanic students outscored the statewide average for all students on the 4th grade NAEP reading exam.

    Also in 2007, Florida’s African American students were a hair’s breath from outscoring the statewide average for all students in Arizona on the same test. They tied or beat two other statewide averages.

    Florida has about half of their students free and reduced lunch eligible, more than half are minorities, and they spend about the same amount per pupil that we do here in Arizona.

    Regardless of whether you are a conservative, a liberal, a libertarian, or a vegetarian isn’t this what we want? Florida’s childhood illiteracy rate as measued by NAEP dropped by 32% between 1999 and 2007. I can demonstrate that this is in part (and yes ONLY in part) because of choice programs. The vast majority of Florida kids still go to public schools, they still have teacher unions, but now a far larger percentage of their kids can read.

    Progressives have to decide what is more important: your means or your ends. Your means (unreformed public schools and an alliance with education unions) are not achieving your ends (high quality education for disadvantaged children).

    Elsewhere on this blog, I’ve provided links showing that Arizona public schools receive $9,700 per pupil in revenue, and that 44% of Arizona 4th graders as effectively illiterate in 2007 on the nation’s most respected testing data.

    I’m confident we can do much better.

  17. Mr. Ladner-

    The devil is always in the details.

    I like certain aspects of a voucher program that would adhere to the requirements I laid out in my previous post. I’m not addressing the current Arizona program or the proposed program because they don’t fit my criteria.

    The problem is, Mr. Ladner, that I don’t think a voucher program like that could be supported by certain blocks of conservatives. Your heavily religious members would try to loophole the program to push intelligent design & abstinence. Your more bigoted members would try to loophole the program to eliminate protection for gays, blacks, hispanics, and children of illegal immigrants. Your wealthier members would try to eliminate means testing, or try to keep the voucher amounts to a point where the gap between the voucher and tuition still kept it unaffordable to low-income students. Your small/no government members would use it as an excuse to de-fund public schools. It’s easy to see why even those liberals like myself who believe a voucher program could be beneficial would still be a part of the “blanket opposition” without significant protections. No one wants to see their kids used as a political football.

    We would still have our pro-union, anti-corporate, freedom from religion, and church/state separatists to deal with. We both have our fringe and they are all very loud.

    The other big, glaring issue with vouchers is it’s just a band-aid. It does nothing to fix failing public schools. It’s benefits would be minimal or non-existent in rural areas. In Arizona, one major issue is how to address education for immigrants. Will the private schools even be willing or able to craft programs to serve them better than public schools?

    Without testing, we are only assuming that private schools in Arizona even provide better education than public schools. Just as you have suggested that throwing money at private schools may not fix them, simply shuffling our kids into unevaluated private schools may not help them either.

  18. Matthew Ladner

    Mr. Safier-

    At the risk of being accused of judo again, I’ll try to address your questions. I’m saying that you can make this programs good from a progressive perspective, not just less bad. There are a number of Democrats who have agreed with this notion-including Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Diane Feinstein.

    Feinstein voted for a voucher program for DC, and wrote: “I have begun to rethink public education, and I think we spend too much time supporting old structures and not enough time on what works for children. If we look at what works for children, we would probably agree that different models have to be provided, because what works for one child may not necessarily work for another.”

    You are of course free to disagree, but be aware that there are progressives who believe deeply in school choice as a social justice issue.

    On your question about testing, I believe most private schools would accept a nationally norm referenced exam for purposes of transparency. There are private choice programs that require lottery admissions and there are others that do not. One must be careful not to try to emulate the public school regulations (see 44% of 4th graders unable to read despite reams of regulation) too much, or private schools will choose not to participate.

    Now, back to the question at hand: fool’s gold. You’ve admitted that the corporate credit saves the state money. Will you also admit that it is unlikely to save the state money by eliminating the individual credit for the reasons discussed above?

    You can continue to dislike the credits if you wish, but does not intellectual honesty require you to admit that $1,800 is far less than $6,000, that a substantial number of these kids are means tested into the program, and that $1,800 is a substantial fraction of an average tuition of $4,300?

    In short, on this particular issue, the facts are rather straightforward.

  19. Mr. Ladner.

    First, a few direct responses to your last post.

    You write, “I hope that it is self-evident now that simple blanket opposition [to school choice, by which I assume you mean vouchers and tax credits] by Democrats is a big strategic error.” No, I don’t see it that way. Vouchers and private school tax credits are bad ideas. If you say we can make them less bad by coming over to your side and offering a few suggestions around the edges, you’re doing your side of the voucher issue, not mine, a favor.

    You write, “One of the reasons that you guys like the corporate credit better than the individual credit…” No, I don’t like the corporate better than the individual credit. I don’t like either of them. But when we’re comparing the two against each other, the corporate legislation is better crafted to lower the amount of abuse of the system. I wish Napolitano didn’t let it through. But she decided that she had no choice on this matter, or there was something else she wanted in exchange, so she made sure the bill did as little damage as possible.

    Now I want to ask you a few questions.

    How many private schools do you think would accept voucher students if it meant they had to go through the same battery of standardized tests, like AIMS and the national tests, that traditional public and charter schools do? And do you think it’s a good idea to force private schools to give those tests as a prerequisite for getting voucher students?

    Second, how many private schools do you think would accept vouchers if they couldn’t deny admission to students based on criteria such as religion or other factors the school might think would be disruptive to the school’s educational mission, and if they couldn’t expel a student for reasons that would not be acceptable at a public school? And do you think it’s a good idea to force private schools to follow the same admissions and expulsion rules traditional public and charter schools have to follow?

  20. Matthew Ladner

    Mr. Safier-

    I’ll do a cut and paste from my above comment: “One of the reasons that you guys like the corporate credit better than the individual credit is because Governor Napolitano negotiated on the details rather than moving in robotic like precision according to the wishes of the education union/establishment.”

    I claimed that you like the corporate credit better than the individual credit, not that you liked it. Is this the case is it not? I have the impression from what you’ve written above that it is the case.

    Now on your broader point, I fail to see how you are interested in “honest discourse” if you simply accuse me of using judo and somehow being unfair. Stephen seems more than capable of reasoning out these issues for himself.

    It seems to me that we have established that the corporate credit saves the state money, and that it is very unlikely that eliminating the individual credit would save the state money.

    This is a good long way from “fool’s gold” is it not? That is the overall topic of this thread, and if you think I’m guilty of using kung-fu sophistry, I’m happy to stay focused on it.

  21. Just a quick comment for anyone who is not aware of what Mr. Ladner is doing. He’s using a debater’s version of judo. If he can get you moving in his direction, even slightly, he takes your motion and uses it to hurl you to the ground.

    Note how often he cites the moments when someone expresses agreement with a portion of one of his ideas. I admit that the corporate tax credit is better written than the individual tax credit, and on Mr. Ladner’s tongue, that is me saying I like the corporate tax credit. Uh uh. That’s not what I said. In the limited area of the financial impact of education tax credits, the corporate legislation is superior to the legislation for individuals. I don’t like the idea of tax credits, which are vouchers by another name.

    He seems positively gleeful at the comments by stephen431, who, by the way, is one commenter — and a very intelligent one — who doesn’t represent everyone in the argument. But Mr. Ladner is seizing on the fact that stephen gave an inch, so he’s stretching it into a mile.

    This is when it becomes difficult to argue with someone who is basically interested in winning by whatever means, especially if you’re someone who is interested in honest discourse where there is a give and take of ideas. And that’s why I point out what I see to be Mr. Ladner’s technique, to make sure people see it for what it is. He wants to shift the terms of the argument — “See, we all agree vouchers are a good idea, we’re just quibbling over details” — and proceed from there.

    No, we don’t all agree on that point. It’s just that many of us see the world, not as black and white, but as shades of gray. It’s a complex place, and we have to sort through facts, information and ideas we like as well as those we dislike, weigh the pros and cons, and come to a conclusion. The world is much easier to understand for people who begin with the absolute answer and work back to the information that justifies their world view.

  22. Matthew Ladner


    Now we are getting somewhere. The devil is in the details of a school choice program, and I hope that it is self-evident now that simple blanket opposition by Democrats is a big strategic error. One of the reasons that you guys like the corporate credit better than the individual credit is because Governor Napolitano negotiated on the details rather than moving in robotic like precision according to the wishes of the education union/establishment.

    As it happens, there are examples of school choice programs that almost perfectly reflect progressive values. The Milwaukee voucher program for example only makes free and reduced lunch eligible inner city students eligible to receive a voucher. The law requires a random lottery for admission. It contains a voluntary opt-out for participation in religion classes. The scholarships are of a substantial size. The parents in the program are wildly enthusiastic about it, and the kids are substantially more likely to graduate. Not coincidentally, this bill was sponsored originally by an African American Democrat. Despite the fact that the unions have spent years denouncing the program, it is in fact quite progressive.

    Personally I dislike some of this stuff. It seems dumb to limit the choice of schools when a kid’s family makes a few dollars over the free and reduced lunch limit, for instance. I believe that the means test has been modified over the years so that when, for instance, the child of single mother marries, or a parent gets a raise, that they aren’t thrown out of the program. The point however is that when you progressives engage in the issue, you can have a great deal of influence.

    Some of the other issues you mention are more difficult than others. I don’t think discrimination is a tough one. Federal laws already prohibit pernicious discrimination by schools, and school choice laws can and have listed compliance with those laws as a precondition for participation.

    Testing is a tough one, but it can be resolved. You have to balance the need for private school independence with the public’s interest in transparency. The whole idea is to give expanded options, so the last thing you want to do is to impose a state test like the AIMS, which will dictate curriculum choices to schools and isn’t a very good test in any case. If you tried to do so in a bill, many private schools would choose not to participate.

    However, the deal struck with Governor Napolitano on the corporate credit is a good one. Students are required to take a national norm reference exam and make the scores available.

  23. Mr. Ladner-

    Do you have any data regarding the performance of low-income students at private schools for comparison purposes? The was no acceptable data from Arizona private schools on NCES.

    I would be willing to support a system of choice as long as it met a few basic requirements.

    First. It would have to meet all of the private choice test criteria
    Second. There needs to be proper reporting of private school data to verify that students accepting vouchers are meeting or exceeding the scores of locally available public schools.
    Third. Means test & a sliding scale for voucher amounts to cover up to and including the full cost of tuition for lower & lower-middle class students.
    Fourth. Expanded scale for minority students. NCES public school scores are even worse for most minorities.
    Fifth. Students that attend private schools that discriminate against students for any reasons would be ineligible for vouchers.

    That means the school can say what they want in religion class, but they can’t kick out the gay kids. They have the same right to access for quality education as every other child. Religious hospitals in the US treat patients with opposed beliefs and they still provide the same quality of care.

    If a voucher program can be crafted that does not try to do an end run around the establishment clause, does not segregate gays, blacks or hispanics, and does not subsidize those families who already have ample means to pay private tuition, then you would end up with a lot of liberal supporters for the program.

  24. Matthew Ladner

    Mr. Safier-

    I’m glad you approve of the design of the corporate tax credit. Governor Napolitano negotiated the details of the program, and ultimately allowed it to become law. A small number of Democrats voted for it. You make the point that the individual credit could be improved upon from an egalitarian perspective, which I will concede. As I have noted elsewhere, however, if legislative Democrats had engaged in a serious debate about program design in 1997, the original means test included would have survived.

    On the point of how many switchers are using the individual credit, no one really knows. It would be good to consider the question however of how many students could not afford to remain in private school without the credit. Based upon the two large Catholic STOs and the Arizona School Choice Trust alone, a minimum of 41% of the total number scholarships are means tested. The true number of low income children benefiting is actually larger than this.

    It seems reasonable to assume that a large number of students, deprived of a scholarship and facing difficult economic times, would return to public school at an expense more than three times larger than the average scholarship for the state alone.

    Thus claims that the individual credit can be eliminated to save money seems off base to me.

  25. Matthew Ladner

    Mr. Safier-

    My pleasure, I look forward to your reply.


    Would you therefore be willing to support a system of choice for free and reduced lunch eligible families? The National Assessment of Educational Progress 4th grade reading exam showed that in 2007 that 59% of these low-income students scored “below basic” in 2007. Feel free to look the number up for yourself:

    Although as you say public schools theoretically can be held accountable, I’d like to know exactly who IS being held accountable for the fact that 59% of Arizona’s low income children score as essentially illiterate. It looks to me that the answer is no one, really.

  26. Mr. Ladner.

    Let me take your comments out of order and start with what you wrote about corporate tax credits.

    I’m pleased you’re using my term, intellectual honesty, and granting me some on the corporate tax credits topic. I would feel more comfortable about your pronouncements if you occasionally admitted that, yes, the other side has a good point on one issue, but you think it’s outweighed by other concerns. No one has a monopoly on truth. Arriving at conclusions on issues is usually a balancing act between facts that lean one way and facts that lean another.

    If I believed in tuition tax credits, I would write the legislation pretty close to exactly the way the corporation tax credits bill is written. It has most of the right restrictions built in. And it may indeed save the state money, since it’s reasonable to argue that each student is getting less money from the state than they would if they were in public schools. I don’t have the expertise to go looking for other variables that might change the financial balance. I’m happy to concede the point.

    (In a comment I put on the post, “An Interesting Number,” I go a little bit into reasons I’m against tuition tax credits and vouchers, regardless of cost.)

    But the individual tuition tax credit bill is awful legislation for anyone who doesn’t believe everyone should get vouchers. Too much of the money goes to people who would send their children to private school anyway, so that’s a drain on state funds.

    A study I read said that only 15% of the students who get scholarships from the individual tax credits are children switching from public to private schools. To state that another way, 85% of the scholarships go to students whose parents had already decided to send them to private school. Even if that number is high, it suggests to me that the majority of the $55 million in individual tuition tax credits is being drained from state funds, even using your kinds of calculation.

    And by the way, $55 million isn’t a significant amount of money? It’s about half of what was just cut from public schools. But you’re probably being consistent here, since you don’t think the $100 million plus K-12 schools lost in the recent budget cuts is terribly significant. I disagree, but, hey, what else is new?

  27. Mr. Ladner-

    There is already a public education system I am happy to fund. I have the ability to be involved and hold them accountable through PTO meetings & school boards. I don’t have that option with private schools. I object to my tax funds that are designated for public education being used to fund private schools. Most families just can’t afford private tuition, even with these vouchers. In essence we are subsidizing a (assumed)higher tier of education that is out of reach for nearly all lower and middle class taxpayers or those taxpayers who live in rural areas.

    I’d be happy to grant exceptions for children who are disabled and a private school can better accommodate them (schools for the blind, deaf, etc). In those cases I’d even be happy to fund the cost at 100% even if it was beyond the average student expenses. Because we are supposed to help those less able, not the other way around.

  28. Mr. Ladner.

    I’m pleased you’re joining the discussion once again at BfA, and flattered that you’re bringing your A game to the argument. I’m out and around most of the day, so I won’t have adequate time to respond to your comments this morning. Just wanted you to know I wasn’t ducking you.

  29. Matthew Ladner

    On the corporate education tax credit, you are getting there on the intellectual honesty front. You might also want to add that the average scholarship provided to allow a child to transfer from public to private school was a mere $2,300 and change:

    (see page 4)

    There therefore can be little doubt that the credit is saving the state money, as the state puts out over $6k per kid in school districts. It’s more than a little intellectually dishonest to be putting out talking points claiming that the state “can’t afford” this program, as some of your ideological compatriots have done.

  30. Mr. Safier-

    The average individual tax credit scholarship is less than $1,800 a student.

    The state shells somewhere around three times this amount when a child enrolls in a public school. Claiming that eliminating the credit would save the state money is therefore absurd.

    It is also absurd to fixate on a $55m credit as if it is some horrible burden on a public school system with $9,232,916,095 in revenue. The individual credit generates about 1% of the revenue that is received by the public schools, but serves a number of students equal to 3% of the public school population (27,153 vs. 951,117). Sounds like a good deal to me.

    I have been told by the sponsor that the original tax credit bill contained a means test, but that means test was removed as a condition to getting the last vote from a very conservative Republican. If you progressives would like school choice bills to reflect your values, you’ll have to engage in a serious debate about how these programs should be structured. Or you can sit around and pretend that a rounding error in the public school revenue is killing you and forfeit any right to be taken seriously.

    On the subject of means testing, I’m curious why no one blinks if taxpayers provide $9,700 in revenue for the son of a North Scottsdale multi-millionaire to attend a public school, but act as though the end of days are approaching if a middle income kid gets an $1,800 scholarship. Help me out with that one.