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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “So, you wanna fix education?”

    Our return to the university this year follows a summer of school-choice victories in the state Legislature. The newly passed legislation is touted by those favoring more local and parental control in educational decisions as the most important step forward for underprivileged students in Arizona history. Following the success of the 10-year-old individual tax-credit program, Governor Napolitano signed into law two new voucher programs – one for students with disabilities and one for children in foster care – and a new corporate tax-credit program that will allow corporations, in addition to individuals, to make tax-deductible donations to state-approved, nonprofit school tuition organizations, or STOs, which in turn distribute scholarships to students throughout the state.

    Yet instead of celebrating this increase in educational freedom and the serious blow it dealt to the government monopoly on education, well-intentioned but underinformed critics continue to make two very impassioned but flawed arguments against school choice.

    The first is that tax-credit programs lead to a “”brain drain”” in the public schools – middle class students with motivation and ability fleeing to private schools, aided by government subsidized money. Indeed, tax-credit programs are persistently accused of merely providing the extra boost that upper-middle-class parents need to send little Chad to Brophy College Prep, while doing practically nothing for the underserved students the programs are designed to assist.

    However, new reporting guidelines for STOs mandated by the Department of Revenue will ensure that this year, the tax-credit programs do exactly what they are meant to do. The privately funded grants they will provide will emancipate inner-city children who are trapped in poor, failing local schools because their parents do not have the financial resources to move into higher-income neighborhoods. In fact, according to a recent study by the Cato Institute, the vast majority of STOs distribute grants based on financial need.

    So, we’re talking about allowing low-income parents to make informed decisions about where to send their children to school by giving them the same amount of money – or, often less – than their children would have received had they remained in the public school system. And the only assumption we have to rely on to accept this educational reform? The belief that parents are better suited to choose the best education for their child than the government.

    The second, and much more emotionally engaging, argument against school-choice programs is that they jump dangerously back and forth over that sacred American line that separates church and state.

    This is where organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union draw their Maginot Line, refusing to back down, lamenting that government subsidized education is just one giant slippery slope toward public dollars going directly to religious organizations. They want, instead, to convince us to keep throwing money at the education system, hoping that heaps of money will somehow improve the quality of schools. The problem? Since the 1960s, Arizona primary and secondary schools have seen their funding triple, adjusted for inflation, while test scores, graduation rates, and the number of schools meeting federal standards fail to improve.

    Further, a quick examination of the U.S. college and university system reveals that the government is already allocating millions of dollars to help pay for education at private, religious schools. That’s right; the Federal Pell Grant awards students with up to $6,000 per year to pursue any accredited post-secondary education, public or private.

    Recent research at Harvard shows that primary and secondary public schools in districts with choice programs are outperforming their counterparts who do not face the threat of competition. The Arizona tax-credit programs not only give inner-city students a way out of failing schools, but also create the threat of competition needed to inspire real reform. It’s time we give our public primary and secondary institutions the incentive our public universities are benefiting from – and the new Arizona legislation, especially the tax-credit programs, are exactly where to begin.

    And contrary to what the ACLU would have you believe, we haven’t and won’t see the degradation of the Constitution, because school choice is not about rewarding the rich, nor is it about subsidizing religion with public funds. School choice is fundamentally about giving all students the opportunity to gain an excellent education and letting parents, not the government, decide where their children will find it. And, aided by choice programs, perhaps one day all children will have the chance we’ve had this week – to sit down for the first day of a new college semester.


    Stan Molever is a senior majoring in philosophy and economics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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