Media

Friday, April 21, 2017

Trouble in Republican City Over Voucher Expansion?

Posted By on Fri, Apr 21, 2017 at 4:00 PM

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I can’t remember agreeing with Greg Miller—a Republican who runs a charter school and is ex-president of the Arizona Board of Education—before. But an op ed he wrote for the Capitol Times, GOP support of voucher expansion bill an insult to most students, is an exception to the rule. It begins,
As an advocate for education reform for the past 35 years, a co-founder of a very successful charter school, a lifelong Republican, and the most recent past president of the Arizona State Board of Education, I have never been more embarrassed, outraged, disappointed, and angry to call myself a Republican. How on earth do the Republicans in the state Legislature who voted for the Empowerment Scholarship Account (voucher) bill, or our governor, who signed it, look in the mirror and in good faith, not understand what they have just done.
Miller continues,
Public education has been the equalizer for 150 years of economic growth and assimilation of immigrants into the culture that we enjoy today. This is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of students who do not have the resources to pay the additional thousands of dollars for the tuition these private schools will be charging above the state subsidy, and without the opportunity of a quality education provided in their local schools where due process and common goals of expectation drive the continued development of economic expansion for everyone, not just a privileged few.
He ends by saying voters need to kick out the ESA expansion supporters in 2018.
All Republicans that share this view [against voucher expansion] use your vote in next summer’s Republican primary to replace anyone who supported this transfer of economic wealth from our public school system to the private schools of the wealthy.
I’ll take exception with Miller here and say we need to kick out the anti-education Republicans and replace them with some pro-education, pro-child Democrats, but hey, we can agree to disagree on that one.

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Statewide Voucher Initiatives Has Been Voted Down Everywhere, Every Time

Posted By on Fri, Apr 21, 2017 at 8:30 AM

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There's no way Republicans can take away the initiative process using the initiative process. Voters won't go for that. And they can't push through school vouchers that way either; people always vote against vouchers. So this year, Republicans have used their legislative majority to thumb their noses at voters, taking away something they like and pushing through more of something they don't.

We've been there before. In 2013 Republicans tried to make it more difficult for voter-proposed initiatives to make it on the ballot. But after passing an anti-initiative law, they repealed it a year later because a move was afoot to let the people decide if they liked what the legislators had done. Republicans hurried to get rid of the law to save themselves from an embarrassing defeat, and to let them reenact anti-initiative legislation later piece by piece, which is what they've done this year.

Private school vouchers have never been on the ballot in Arizona. The Republican-controlled legislature voted in School Tuition Organizations in 1997. In 2011 it did the same for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. Then year by year it passed new bills to expand the two voucher systems.

Why didn't Republicans let voters have their say on STOs or ESAs? Because they know, voucher ballot measures have never passed anywhere—at least not for the past 30 years, which is as far back as I can find information.

Here's a list of statewide votes on vouchers, courtesy of Ballotpedia.
1990: Oregon Tuition Tax Credits. Defeated 68%-32%.
1993: California School Vouchers. Defeated 70%-30%.
1996: Washington State School Vouchers. Defeated 64%-36%.
1998: Colorado Tuition Tax Credits. Defeated 60%-40%.
2000: California School Vouchers. Defeated 71%-29%.
2007: Utah School Vouchers. Defeated 63%-38%.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Dare to Say, 'Tax the Rich'

Posted By on Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 3:30 PM

COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA
  • Courtesy of wikimedia
If there's a Democratic primary for governor, I'm supporting the candidate who says "Tax the rich."

David Garcia already signed on to run against Ducey in 2018. Steve Farley has said he's interested. Farley and Garcia are both very smart, energetic guys who I would be happy to see as our next governor. Add the extra pleasure of seeing Ducey crash and burn at the polls, and I'd be damn near ecstatic if either won. Both of them are strong backers of public education. Both will push for inclusive social services from state agencies. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but not enough for me to give either the political edge. That makes it tough to choose between them, assuming Farley jumps in the race.

So if there's a primary, I'm going to be listening for their stands on raising taxes. There's no way to stretch current dollars to pay for what we need. Education. Social services. Did I mention highway repair? Those are all big ticket items, and Arizona has a small ticket budget.

Farley has made a good case for getting rid of some of the tax exemptions gifted to special interests over the years. He thinks there's at least $2 billion in trimmable tax breaks, maybe more, without touching the sales tax exemptions for things like food and prescriptions. And that would be terrific. But whenever I hear that kind of talk from Farley and other Democrats, much as I think it's a great idea, I always feel like it's a way of avoiding the elephant in the room. And I don't mean the Republican elephant. I mean that big ol' "Tax increase" elephant.

Garcia has edged up next to the idea of a tax increase. He says we absolutely need more money for education and he wants to raise revenue, maybe even raise taxes if necessary. But if he has a plan, I don't know what it is.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Favoring the 8 Percent, Ignoring the 92 Percent

Posted By on Fri, Apr 14, 2017 at 3:45 PM

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A little more than seven percent of Arizona's students attend private schools or are home-schooled—eight percent, tops. That's who the vouchers-for-all Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are all about, the eight percent, making sure they get the maximum access to taxpayer dollars our Republican legislators and the governor can manage. Meanwhile, the ninety-two percent attending district and charter schools have to fight to get a few dollars added to the state's dwindling financial commitment to its education budget.

But, the argument goes, vouchers will mean more children in private schools, so the ESA voucher dollars aren't really new money. It's just a case of funds following students. Except that's not what's happened in Arizona. Back in 1997, long before ESAs, we began another voucher program, private school tax credits. It takes money that otherwise would go into the state budget and funnels it to School Tuition Organizations which dole the money out to pay for private school tuition (and make a handy little profit for the STOs in the process). It's grown from a program that transferred a reasonably small amount of taxpayer money to private schools, about $4.5 million a year, to more than $140 million a year. If more vouchers meant more parents choosing private school for their children, we should have seen a boom in their enrollment over the past twenty years. Instead, something like 2,000 fewer students attend private school now than in 1997. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands more students are enrolled in district and charter schools.

$140 million a year in vouchers—and for the past few years we've thrown the ESA vouchers into the mix as well—and the result has been 2,000 fewer private school students in a state with a growing school-aged population. While the privatizers say vouchers are all about the growth of "school choice," a shrinking percentage of parents are choosing private schools for their children.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Diane Douglas Got Trumped. And DeVosed. And Maybe Duceyed. And It's a Damn Shame.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 13, 2017 at 6:15 PM

COURTESY OF THE ARIZONA  DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
  • Courtesy of the Arizona Department of Education
Education Superintendent Diane Douglas called it "fake news that was published by a failing news organization," and criticized the "so-called reporters" for writing a misleading story in the Arizona Republic. She also complained about a "hack media lawyer."

I'll give her this. At least her Trumpian put-downs were in a three page letter, not a series of tweets.

As anyone who reads my posts knows, I've had kind words to say about Douglas in the past. When she took office, I feared she would do her Tea Party worst, but instead she's combined a "do no harm" attitude toward schools and students with a willingness to listen to teachers and parents, and she put together a list of thoughtful recommendations, many of which I agree with. The only people she gave any serious grief were Doug Ducey and his Board of Education, leading me to shout, "Go Diane!" Compared to the two previous superintendents, Tom Horne and John Huppenthal, she's been a pleasant surprise.

Last September, Douglas publicly announced her support for Trump in an official news release. It was an odd thing for her to do, not because she supported Trump—I expected that—but because she stayed silent during the campaign for Prop 123 which had far more to do with her job than the presidential election. Her public, official support of Trump told me she really, really likes the guy.

And now comes this letter adopting not only Trump's dislike of the media and of lawyers who oppose him, but adopting his language as well, word for word. It looks like Douglas has gotten back in touch with her inner right-wingnut. And that's a shame.

The subject of her dispute with the Republic makes her condemnation of the paper even more shameful. It's over information about the current use of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts which she should have, and could have, given to the paper promptly and in usable form. Instead, according to the article, she took almost two years, releasing the data the day the state House was voting on the vouchers-for-everyone bill, and in a form that was close to unusable. The ESA bill, the pride and joy of Doug Ducey and the Goldwater Institute, praised by U.S. Ed Sec Betsy DeVos, Jeb Bush and education privatizers everywhere, passed without a vote to spare. If Douglas had given the information to the Republic earlier and in usable form, an article might have swayed one on-the-fence Republican who voted Yes to vote No instead, and the bill would have died.

You gotta wonder, was Douglas part of the cabal working to pass the bill, even if it meant withholding important information?

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

In 13 Years, Every Private School and Home-Schooled Student Could Have a Voucher

Posted By on Wed, Apr 12, 2017 at 1:51 PM

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Coming to a private school near you, and the home-school down the block: taxpayer-funded ESA money for children whose parents never considered sending their kids to a district or charter school.

Courtesy of a bill Ducey signed a few days ago, the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, aka Vouchers on Steroids, will soon be available to every child in Arizona. The restrictions on who can apply for an ESA are gone. Rich or poor, in districts and schools with "A" to "F" grades, with or without learning disabilities, every child qualifies. True, a last minute deal to lure in a few reluctant Republican legislators added limits to the number of ESAs which can be given out, topping out at 30,000 by the 2022-23 school year, but the Goldwater Institute had its fingers crossed when it made the deal. The limits will be gone as soon as G.I. and Ducey can figure out a way to get rid of them.

But even without the limits, there's a catch. To get an ESA, a child has to attend a district or charter school for at least 100 days the year before, which means students already in private schools or being home-schooled can't apply for the vouchers. But that catch has an escape clause. Children entering kindergarten can get the voucher money without ever setting foot in a district or charter school.

So why wouldn't parents who plan to have their kindergarteners attend a private school apply for an ESA, which, once they get it, will continue year after year until their children finish high school (or, if there's money left over, until it's all used up paying for college)?

And why wouldn't parents who home-school their children start the ESA ball rolling when their tykes hit four or five, and keep the money rolling in until their children finish high school (or, if there's money left over, until it's all used up paying for college)?

After all, those parents will get a $4,000-a-year voucher at the low end and as much as $20,000, or even more, for children with educational disabilities. Free money! It's all upside, no downside. They'd be fools not to take advantage.

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

BASIS Makes a Rare Response to Criticism: Part 2

Posted By on Thu, Apr 6, 2017 at 1:31 PM

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Here's a statement I would be happy to read from the people who run BASIS schools:

"We take some of the most talented children in the country and turn them into the best educated students in the world."

I could quibble with a statement like that, questioning whether the BASIS curriculum and methodology are the best way to educate kids, but I wouldn't bother. Sure, there's more than a bit of hyperbole in a declaration like that, but its message accurately describes the BASIS system, which is: Talented kids in, well educated students out. It sure beats the myth BASIS has been promoting for years, that it takes everyday, average students off the streets and turns them into educational world beaters.

And I have to say, happily, the latest statement from BASIS is closer to acknowledging the truth that BASIS's students are a select group than I can remember hearing or reading from the organization, ever.

In a few recent posts, I've written about an op ed in the Washington Post which said that BASIS charter schools teach a select group of students, which accounts for much of the schools' academic success. To my surprise, BASIS broke its usual code of silence and responded to the op ed. And in the process, it agreed that, yes, the schools' student body is not a random collection of Arizona students.

The WaPo op ed said BASIS "cherry-picks" students. BASIS turned that on its head and says it's the parents who do the cherry-picking, not the school.
There is “cherry picking” involved at BASIS Charter Schools, but it is not the type that the blogger alleges. BASIS Charter Schools do not pick their students (and cannot, by law). Rather, it is students and parents who pick us. Students and parents, in states with liberating charter laws, are able to choose between hundreds of different programs and curricula, “cherry picking” the best fit for their child.
It sounds like we all agree that for one reason or another, BASIS students are a select, cherry-picked group. A little later in the statement, BASIS doubles down on the selection process, saying it's a sign that school choice works.
To say that BASIS Charter Schools cannot or should not offer a specific type of programming (in our case, an academically accelerated, AP-infused, liberal arts academic program) that will be attractive to some families, but not attractive to all, is to attack and undermine the whole purpose of the school choice movement.
I find myself in complete agreement with BASIS when it says its program is "attractive to some families, but not attractive to all." Parents who want the "academically accelerated, AP-infused, liberal arts academic program" the schools provide and believe their children are up to the challenge are the most likely people to send their children to BASIS. Parental choice skews the schools' student bodies toward academically talented, motivated students. But that's not the whole story. In fact, both the parents and BASIS are involved in the selection process.

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

BASIS Makes a Rare Response to Criticism

Posted By on Tue, Apr 4, 2017 at 5:00 PM

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It almost never happens that BASIS responds to its critics. The charter chain isn't shy about promoting itself, but it rarely answers people who question its assertions. Back in 2014, I received a response when I posted about BASIS' high national high school ranking. Julia Toews, then the Head of BASIS Tucson North, thought my analysis was unfair, so I gave her space to respond in a guest post right here on The Range. And once when a national publication published an op ed using misleading BASIS enrollment figures to make its point, BASIS made sure to point out, correctly, that the figures were misleading. That's about it so far as I've seen, and I follow stories about BASIS pretty carefully.

So this came as a surprise. A few days ago the Washington Post published an op ed which took a look at BASIS' student population and found that it enrolls significantly more White and Asian students than the general Arizona population, its schools tend to be placed in high income areas and it has high attrition rates, all of which means that its students tend to be higher academic achievers than the average Arizona student population. I posted about the op ed, but more important, it was summarized in the Yellow Sheet, a publication of the Arizona Capitol Times which is mainly read by a Who's-Who of Arizona because of its high subscription cost. The next day, the Yellow Sheet ran a response from BASIS. I'm guessing the reason for this special occasion was, BASIS wasn't about to let anyone say bad things about it to Arizona's most powerful citizens without a rebuttal.

I'm going to discuss BASIS' response in another post. This post is already running long and my discussion of what BASIS wrote will be even longer. What I want to do here is describe what my criticism of BASIS is, and what it isn't.

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