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More than 2,000 parents, students, teachers, policymakers and school choice supporters this morning gathered at the state Capitol to celebrate the opportunities and excellent educational options available to Arizona families. Our state’s leaders, from Sen. John McCain to Gov. Doug Ducey, are talking about the role school choice has played in moving Arizona’s education system forward.
According to the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Leaders and Laggards report, Arizona has one of the most robust school choice environments in the country. Not only do we have strong public charter laws, but our district schools are open to all students thanks to Arizona’s open enrollment policy. Arizona is a national leader for public district school choice, earning the bragging right of being the first in the country to include a school boards association as a National School Choice Week partner. Gov. Ducey in his comments today rightly had high praise for our friend Janice Palmer for her excellent work at the Arizona School Boards Association.
As a parent, I’ve taken full advantage of these policies, shopping both district and charter schools to find the best fit for each of our three girls.
As a result, our state is currently home to three of the top 10 high schools in the country: BASIS Scottsdale and BASIS Oro Valley, which are public charters, and University High School in Tucson, which is a magnet school. While scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (“NAEP,” known also as the “Nation’s Report Card”) sunk or remained stagnant, Arizona’s improved, and we were among the top states in the nation in closing the achievement gap. And the icing on the cake? If Arizona’s charter school students were their own state, they would have performed on par with the top-scoring Massachusetts. Kudos to Dr. Matt Ladner for digging into the data to uncover this critical nugget.
And our robust charter sector doesn’t deliver high quality results in just the high-income zip codes. Kim Chayka’s Academies of Math and Science is proving each day that we can earn great results regardless of neighborhood demographics. AMS is our state’s answer to KIPP.
While a combination of robust choice and innovative options means that an excellent education is a reality for many Arizona families, it is still not the case for enough of Arizona’s families. Too many students are stuck on long waiting lists. I consider students who are currently enrolled at a D or F-level school to also be on a “waiting list,” too.
Through our work with A for Arizona, led by former state superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan, who Gov. Ducey called one of “the most hard-working and influential school choice champions on the planet,” and Dr. Matt Ladner, whom I rank as the top architect in the country when it comes to school choice design, we have a set of proposals that will provide even more choice and more quality to our system.
Here’s what we need now at the ballot and legislatively to expand quality choice:
- Voter ratification of Proposition 123. Voters must pass this plan to inject $3.5 billion over 10 years of new dollars into all public schools.
- At the legislative level, we already know what we want from our schools: students who graduate ready for college and the job market. We should use any available state resources to reward schools who are consistently getting this job done.
- That starts with restoration of CTE funding. These programs service more than 98,000 students statewide and see graduation rates of 98 percent.
- For those on the academic track, we know that college success rates increase significantly for those who take and pass AP-type exams. The Governor’s budget contains a truly big idea here. Rewarding schools that can prepare students to pass these exams will improve college success and save families millions of dollars as kids reduce the number of credits necessary for a college degree.
- Reduce the cost of capital. Every dollar spent on interest is a dollar absent from a teacher’s pocket. The Governor has a plan to help schools that want to grow and access cheaper money, thus freeing up dollars to hire more quality teachers, increase the size of their school, or build a new building. This is important to clearing kids from waiting lists.
- Compensate those schools providing dramatically more seat time in K-8 with a focus on low-income schools that prove academic success. Perhaps the most important takeaway from working with our A for Arizona schools has been that schools that are closing the achievement gap in a significant way are doing it by giving the state an average of five additional weeks of free time. This is noble, but not sustainable. To get these schools to scale, we should compensate these extraordinary teachers and leaders for the extra quality time-on-task they provide.
- Along those same lines, we should incentivize the growth of our highest performing schools by offering school recognition bonuses to schools that get to or stay at the “A” level.
- Implement a common application system for all Arizona public schools. Cities like New Orleans, Washington, DC and New York City have adopted common application systems to make it easier for parents to exercise their choice.
- And finally, Uberize our school transportation system. As New Orleans education reform leader Neerav Kingsland puts it, “Choice isn’t choice without a ride.”
While we will continue to push for policies to guarantee every Arizona family access to a high-quality choice, today is a day to celebrate the extraordinary gains we’ve made. So, throw on your yellow scarves and break out your National School Choice Week dance moves, here comes Arizona
By Corbin Carson | January 7, 2016 @ 7:00 pm
PHOENIX — A recent poll found that the topic of education ranks among one of the highest priorities with Arizona Voters, according to the non-profit organization Expect More Arizona.
Expect More Arizona President and CEO Pearl Chang Esau said education ranked higher among the 600 surveyed state voters than the economy or immigration.
“In the past, when we have polled Arizona’s likely voters, education has typically been either No. 2 or No. 3 on the list, ranking below other things like the economy and immigration,” she said.
Education came in at 41 percent with immigration/border security at 12 percent and the economy at 10 percent. Chang Esau said the survey also asked voters about the most important issues within the topic of education.
“We also asked them what they thought were the top two issues within education, and the No. 1 issue was the need for increasing education funding,” she said. “The No. 2 issue, which ranked high across all political parties, was increasing teacher pay.”
Chang Esau said 87 percent of Arizonans strongly believe funding for Career and Technical Education programs is an important priority, she said. Those programs help students receive real-world training while preparing them for the future.
“If you just look at the data for Career and Technical Education programs, they’re graduating students at far greater rates than our state average,” she said. “In fact, in the mid-90 (percent).”
“So what we’re seeing is that voters in Arizona believe that education is important for everybody’s quality of life,” Esau said.
The survey also found 85 percent of voters support efforts to close the achievement gap, 92 percent want to focus on ensuring students have access to “great” education officials and 81 percent thing schools should have additional funding to serve low-income students.
Washington—Four non-profit organizations dedicated to ensuring all American children attend a school that challenges them and prepares them for the future have filed an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case that would overturn “Blaine Amendments” in state constitutions and remove the chief obstacle to school vouchers in all 50 states.
In 2011, the Douglas County, Colorado elected school board created the nation’s first school board-approved school voucher program. The program allowed all students who had been enrolled in a Douglas County public school the previous school year to apply for a tuition scholarship to attend a private school of their choice. The pilot program was capped at 500 students per year and many more families applied than were given scholarships.
The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed suit against the program on the basis that it violated the state constitution’s “Blaine Amendment,” which blocks public funds from being given to religious institutions or schools. Even though these scholarships were given directly to parents, not to a religious school, the state Supreme Court ultimately struck the program down as a violation of the Blaine Amendment.
Blaine Amendments were inserted into many state constitutions, sometimes as a pre-condition for admittance into the union, at a time when anti-Catholic bigotry raged throughout the country. The amendments were specifically designed to prevent Catholics from using public resources to educate their children in Catholic schools.
While school vouchers have been upheld as constitutional at the federal level by the Supreme Court (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris in 2002), several state courts in addition to Colorado’s have used Blaine Amendments to strike down state-funded school voucher programs.
Supporters of the Douglas County tuition scholarship program have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case and strike down Blaine Amendments in all states. If successful, this would clear the way for school vouchers in all 50 states. Half of all states currently have school voucher programs in place.
Blaine Amendments can be found in 37 state constitutions: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming.
In their amicus brief, the Goldwater Institute, Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, and American Federation for Children ask the Supreme Court to hear the case and, ultimately, strike down the Blaine Amendments.
“The educational opportunities of millions of American schoolchildren are jeopardized by the Blaine amendments,” says Clint Bolick, the vice president of litigation at the Goldwater Institute and author of the amicus brief. “In states with robust private school choice programs, like Florida, data shows that the racial achievement gap is closing and thousands more disadvantaged students are going to college.”
“The Blaine Amendment is an archaic and ill-designed provision designed to sanction state-sponsored discrimination,” said Patricia Levesque, CEO of ExcelinEd. “Shamefully, the ACLU and others have embraced this bigoted legacy. It is with great pride that our Foundation joins this effort to preserve the individual rights and liberties of all families, regardless of income, to pursue a brighter future for their children.”
“This case could represent an important breakthrough in securing educational opportunities for children who today are trapped in failing schools,” said Julio Fuentes, the president of Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options.
“Every child deserves the opportunity to access a quality education that suits their needs,” said Kevin P. Chavous, executive counsel for the American Federation for Children. “This lawsuit challenges an outdated law rooted in bigotry. AFC is honored to work with this coalition to break down barriers to options and choice in education, and empower countless families with the ability to take control of their child’s education and reach their full potential.”
About the Goldwater Institute
The Goldwater Institute drives results by working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and strengthen the freedom guaranteed to all Americans in the constitutions of the United States and all 50 states. With the blessing of its namesake, the Goldwater Institute opened in 1988. Its early years focused on defending liberty in Barry Goldwater’s home state of Arizona. Today, the Goldwater Institute is a national leader for constitutionally limited government respected by the left and right for its adherence to principle and real world impact. No less a liberal icon than the New York Times calls the Goldwater Institute a “watchdog for conservative ideals” that plays an “outsize role” in American political life.
The Foundation for Excellence in Education is transforming education for the 21st century economy by working with lawmakers, policymakers, educators and parents to advance education reform across America. ExcelinEd is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Learn more at ExcelinEd.org.
Founded in 2001, Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options addresses the crisis in Hispanic education by providing parents with free information and resources to guide them in becoming advocates for their children. Hispanic CREO is the only national public policy Hispanic organization dedicated solely to K-12 education reform to advocate for parents and children. Hispanics are the most undereducated minority group in the United States.
About the American Federation for Children
American Federation for Children is the nation’s leading school choice advocacy organization and works in states across the country to help secure additional, high-quality educational options for families.