Vouchers: Some Common Sense Questions

Linda Oyon

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you know corporate reformers are anxious to implement vouchers as a way to expand school choice. The secret sauce they say, is that the dollars follow the student because parents know best about what is best for their child’s education.

Just for a few moments though, I’d like to ask you to please forget whether or not you believe school choice and vouchers are the answer to “Make American Education Great Again.” Forget all the hype and promises, just ask yourself which of these scenarios makes more sense?

  1. Which is more accountable and transparent to parents, the taxpayers and voters and therefore less likely to experience less fraud, waste and abuse? #1 Hint to the answer. #2 Hint to the answer. #3 Hint to the answer.
    a. District schools that must report every purchase, competitively bid out purchases over a certain amount, have all purchases scrutinized by a locally elected governing board, undergo an extensive state-run audit each year, and are publicly reported on for performance efficiency and student achievement by the AZ Auditor General’s office each year?
    b. A voucher system which puts the onus on recipient parents to submit proof of expenditures to an understaffed AZ Department of Education office responsible for monitoring the $37 million ($99.7 million since 2011) in voucher expenditures for 4,102 different students?
  2. Which is more likely to be held accountable for student achievement and thereby taxpayer return on investment? Hint to the answer.
    a. A district school where students are given a standardized state test with scores rolled up to the state and made public, where data is reported (following federal guidelines for data protection) by subgroups to determine achievement gaps, and where high school graduation and college attendance rates are reported?
    b. A private school that does not provide any public visibility to test results and where the state (per law) has no authority to request or require academic progress from voucher recipients or the school?
  3. Which is more likely regarding the portability (with no impact) of per student funding when students leave their district schools?
    a. When a student leaves a district school with their education funding in their backpack, they take all associated expenses with them?
    b. That there are fixed costs left behind (approx. 19%) that the school is required to still fund such as teachers and other staff that cannot be eliminated just because a couple of students left a classroom, or a bus route that can’t be done away with just because one student is no longer taking that bus, or a building air conditioner that can’t be turned off because the occupancy in the classrooms is down by three students. That what the “drain” causes instead, is larger class sizes, less support services, less variety in the curricula, etc.?
  4. Which is more likely to serve disadvantaged students — the ones most in need of our help? Hint to the answer.
    a. A district school, where the vast majority of educational expenses are covered by the taxpayer, where students are transported from their home to school, where free and reduced lunches are provided and which must accept all comers?
    b. A $5,200 voucher to a private or parochial school which has total control over which students they accept, does not provide transportation and according to PrivateSchoolReview.com costs an average of $6,000 for elementary schools and $18,000 for high schools in 2016-17?

I hope you came to the same conclusions I did some time ago, that when it comes to transparency, accountability and equity, district schools outperform private schools. I’d also like to make the unequivocal claim that district schools also (across the board) produce more achievement than private schools, but as you can see, they don’t report their results so I don’t know that for sure.

And yet, the Arizona Legislature continues to push expansion of vouchers in our state. A push for full expansion last year by Debbie Lesko (Peoria-R) was killed, largely due to its potentially negative impact on the passage of Proposition 123, but she has revived the effort this year in the form of SB 1431. This bill, which would fully expand vouchers to ALL 1.1 million Arizona students by the 2020-2021 school year has been assigned to the Senate Education and Rules Committees and is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Ed Cmte on 2/9/17. Senator Steve Smith (Maricopa-R) has sponsored an associated bill, SB 1281, that requires the AZ DOE to contract with an outside firm (I’m sure that’s much better…just like private prisons) to help administer the ESA program, and makes various changes to the program. The bill stipulates that AZ DOE may request (not MUST request) confirmation toward graduation from high school or completion of a GED. This is obviously an attempt to defuse the argument there is insufficient accountability in the AZ voucher programAZEDNEWS also reports that Lesko supports adding a requirement to her bill to track achievement of ESA students, but that requirement would be only to report test results to parents, not the AZ DOE.

No matter how much sugar the commercializers try to coat vouchers with, they are still just a vehicle for siphoning tax dollars away from our district community schools to private and parochial (religious) schools with no accountability or transparency. For every person who says “parents have the right to use their child’s education tax dollars as they see fit”, I say, “and taxpayers have the right to know the return on investment for their tax dollars.” The former right in no way “trumps” the latter.

We must stop this terrible legislation. If you are signed up for the Legislature’s Request to Speak system, please click here to log in today and leave a comment for the Senate Education Committee about why you oppose SB 1431 and SB 1281. If you aren’t signed up, please leave me a comment to this post and I will get you signed up and ensure you are trained to use it. The system allows you to comment on pending legislation from your home computer or mobile device, you don’t have to go to the Legislature and speak in person unless you want to.

If you don’t want to use RTS, please call or email the members of the Senate Education Committee (listed below) and your district legislators (click here to find out who they are) to let them know how you feel. There is strength in numbers and the people do have the power, we just have to exercise it!

Senate Education Committee Members

Sylvia Allen, Chairman – 602.926.5409

David Bradley – 602.926.5262

Kate Brophy McGee – 602.926.4486

Catherine Miranda – 602.926.4893

Steve Montenegro, Vice-Chairman – 602.926.5955

Steve Smith – 602.926.5685

Kimberly Yee – 602.926.3024


  1. What has all this fake accountability gotten us? The typical student from poverty can’t say 9 when you say 5 plus 4. They read less than 2 minutes a day because reading is so painfully slow for them. Their reading is so painfully slow that they lack the ability to comprehend any sentence longer the five words.

    That’s accountability and it tells us that using district schools to deliver public education resulted in one of the most racist institutions ever designed.

    A student can get a public education at a district school, at a charter school or at a private school.

    There is just nothing to lose by allowing parents to make that choice.

    2015 marked 23 years of school choice in Arizona. Arizona African Americans place first in the nation in math, up from 6th in 2011. Hispanics placed 11th, up from 35th and white students placed 6th.

    Murders by juveniles in Arizona dropped from 70 in 1992 to 7 in 2012 (FBI Uniform Crime stats, most recent year).

    School choice is extremely healthy.

    • Usually, it’s the (private and charter) schools who get to make that choice, by accepting students at their sole discretion.

      If we actually cared about education, we would be properly funding mental health, food stamps programs, drug treatment, an adequate supply of stable low-income housing, and an economy where parents don’t have to work 85 hours a week to provide enough money just to avoid failing to pay their rent bill or their electric bill. But we’re just not going to get that, because the Baby Boomers got all sorts of government assistance through federal programs that the Greatest Generation paid for, then convinced themselves that they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and took away the ladder to opportunity.

      I’ll be sure that when charter schools just decide to randomly close up, usually on the 101st day, take the money, and make the district schools pay for the other 79 days without state compensation (something that, unfortunately, does happen more than advocates care to admit), that Mr. Huppenthal said the district schools didn’t lose anything as a result.

      • Suppose 5 schools a year close. Failing charters are characterized by having less than 200 students, that’s why they close – because they are failing to attract students.

        That’s 1,000 students and $5 million dollars. That’s not rounding error on school funding in this state. That’s not even rounding error on rounding error.

        By comparison, over 2000 district students per year are told “leave or be expelled” from district schools – after the 100 day count.

        This is a major source of growth for charter schools and they are glad to accept these fundless students and the challenge that they represent.

        That’s why our juvenile murder rate has fallen 90% in 24 years despite a tripling of our at-risk population.

        A caring, nurturing environment is all about mental health. District education is brutal on the mental health of children from poverty.

        • Okay John, not going to let you get away unchallenged on this one. Where are you getting “By comparison, over 2000 district students per year are told “leave or be expelled” from district schools – after the 100 day count” from?

        • The murder rate has fallen drastically in every state.

          You know why?

          Because we took the lead out of our paint, our gas, and our plumbing / water since the 1970’s. That right there accounts for half of the decrease – nothing to do with school choice.

          And while talking about a 90% drop compared with a 70% drop nationwide seems like it’s a big deal, that’s maybe a dozen people a year – not what I would consider statistically significant, or something I would make policy decisions based upon.

          Spurious correlation and post hoc fallacies seem to be very common with your arguments.

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