Thomas Jefferson was an advocate of public schooling, after a fashion. He knew that an educated public was the only protection against government abuses, and he assumed that a state‐run, state‐funded school system would provide that essential education. If he could only see public schooling today.
The Arizona‐based Goldwater Institute has just released a study on the civics knowledge of that state’s high school students. Matt Ladner, Goldwater’s head of research, administered the same trivial test that’s given to immigrants applying for citizenship, using the same trivial pass/fail threshold. [I know it’s trivial, ’cause I took it a few years ago.] The results of Goldwater’s little experiment… Oh. My. God. Becky:
96.5 percent of AZ public high school students failed
Honestly, why did anyone — especially Thomas Jefferson — ever imagine that a government monopoly would be a good way to educate kids about a democratic republic and protect them from abuses of government power?
The AP reports on a plan unfolding in Arizona to help keep foster children and kids with disabilities in schools of their choice:
Republican‐backed legislation to create new tax credits to help hundreds of foster children and disabled children attend private schools is advancing in the Legislature.
On a special session’s second day, Senate and House committees on Tuesday endorsed the bill creating new corporate and insurance premium tax credits for donations for private school tuition grants.
Priority would go initially to foster and disabled children who received vouchers that have been ruled unconstitutional by the Arizona Supreme Court.
The Arizona Supreme Court has specifically and emphatically upheld education tax credits, so this effort should succeed if passed and signed. The ever‐wacky 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently created some confusion over the details of tax credit program administration, but the credit approach to funding school choice has never been eliminated by the courts … they should be put back in their place on this case as they have in so many others.
Good luck to the children who had their voucher program overturned … this should be a no‐brainer for the politicians.
Last month, I warned that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals would soon be handing the school choice movement a legal setback. Well, it’s here.
As expected, the 9th Circuit has reinstated a lower court challenge to Arizona’s scholarship donation tax credit program. The program allows taxpayers to contribute to non‐profit Scholarship Tuition Organizations (STOs) that provide financial assistance to families choosing private schools. The taxpayers can then claim a dollar for dollar credit for their donation.
While this ruling leaves the program intact for the time being, it would almost surely require the tax credit program to be amended if it is allowed to stand. Fortunately, as I noted in my earlier post, the 9th Circuit is overturned as often as a caber at the Highland Games. Its ruling is unlikely to stand if appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
At issue is the fact that taxpayers are free to choose the STOs to which they donate their money, and private STOs are free to set criteria for the schools at which their scholarships can be redeemed. There are thus some STOs that offer scholarships only to religious schools. This is essentially the same situation that obtains when taxpayers claim deductions for contributions to non‐profit charities. The charities can legally be religious or secular, and they can infuse the services they offer with religion, or not, as they choose. The whole thing is constitutional because it is the taxpayers, not the government, that decides which charity gets their funds. This is all settled law.
To get around the fact that the legal precedents were against it, the 9th Circuit decided to do a compelling impression of Marcel Marceau, pretending to hem itself into an invisible legal box. Specifically, the 9th Circuit decided to pretend that the constitutional restrictions limiting government expenditures (as in school voucher programs) also apply to the private funds at issue under tax credit programs.
That box, of course, does not exist. No government money is spent under the tax credit program, and the tax credits are themselves available on an entirely religiously neutral basis, in scrupulous conformance with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
So here’s my next legal prediction: the constitutionality of the Arizona education tax credit program will ultimately be upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, and opponents of educational freedom will have to resort to some new ploy in their efforts to herd American families back onto the public school plantation.
The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today in a case that will affect how and at what cost English is taught to non‐native speakers in U.S. public schools. On one side are Hispanic parents from southern Arizona who sued their school district for failing to properly teach their children English, and on the other are district and state officials who want the courts to butt out and let them teach students in whatever way, and at whatever cost, they choose. I understand what these parents are going through — I grew up in an English‐speaking family in the French‐speaking province of Quebec — but it really doesn’t matter who “wins” this case: the families will lose either way.
Even if the parents “win,” and the Court orders their public school district to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more on English instruction, it won’t do any good. A 1985 federal court order compelled the state of Missouri to spend an additional $2 billion over 12 years to desegregate Kansas City schools and improve the achievement of African American students. Neither goal was achieved, and even the presiding judge eventually admitted his order was a failure. Extra spending and court pressure do not improve public school performance, because public schools don’t have to show improvement to get the money and because courts can’t dismiss ineffective administrators or teachers.
The real solution is to empower families to _leave_ the schools that are failing them and move their children to more effective ones. Fortunately, Arizona has an education tax credit program that makes scholarships available to defray private school tuition. Whatever the court’s verdict, these parents should be banding together to create a local scholarship fund that can accept tax‐credited donations so their children can attend the private schools of their choice. They can then pick whichever schools demonstrate the most success at teaching English instead of spending their time in court.
As Andrew Coulson noted earlier, the Arizona Supreme Court struck down two voucher programs today that serve special needs and foster children.
I think some of his points deserve an additional emphasis; this is a tragedy for many of the state’s most needy and vulnerable children but it can be easily fixed. (See who school choice opponents are so determined to send back to an inadequate public school system here).
These children can be quickly and seamlessly supported in their school of choice through an immediate expansion of the state’s two existing education tax credit programs, which have been ruled constitutional.
These children are in desperate need of the education they currently receive at private schools, and lawmakers must ensure that they can continue to attend their school of choice.
The Arizona Supreme Court has just struck down two voucher programs serving disabled and foster children. This is a terrible blow to the families involved, but there is a way to continue offering them educational freedom: incorporate them into the state’s popular education tax credit programs.
Arizona residents and businesses can already make donations to non‐profit scholarship funds and receive a tax credit for their donations. If the caps on those credits are raised, it will be possible to generate enough funding to serve the students formerly participating in the voucher programs. It would even be possible to create non‐profit scholarship funds that specifically focus on serving special needs students, which could help parents choose the schools best suited to their individual children’s needs, and allow donors to know that their funds would go toward that cause.
While the Court has said that vouchers are impermissible in Arizona, it has already upheld the state’s tax credits that accomplish the same ends entirely through voluntary action. It is a solution that should satisfy everyone.
Everyone, that is, who has the best interests of children in mind.
Reversing his earlier support for private school choice in the District of Columbia, Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews now calls for the end of the DC Opportunity Scholarship program. Why? “Vouchers help [low income] kids, but not enough of them. The vouchers are too at odds with the general public view of education. They don’t have much of a future.”
So private school choice programs work, but because they are not growing quite fast enough for Mr. Mathews’ taste we should abandon the entire enterprise? Why keep striving for total victory when can seize defeat today!
The thing is, major social changes are usually, what’s the word… oh yes: hard. Susan B. Anthony co‐founded the National Women’s Suffrage Association in 1869. She died in 1906 — 14 years, 5 months and five days before passage of the 19th Amendment. If a social reform is right and just, it will inspire reformers who will fight for it every bit as long as it takes.
And even those who decide what social reforms to support based on their popularity should take note that school choice programs are proliferating all over the country. And newer tax credit programs, such as Florida’s, Pennsylvania’s, and Arizona’s, are all growing at a faster rate than older voucher programs like the one in Milwaukee. More than that, the politics of school choice have already begun to change at the state level. While Democrats in Congress had no qualms slipping a shiv into the futures of 1,700 poor kids, more and more of their fellow party members at the state level are deciding to back educational freedom.