In the end, this would just be a huge waste of money — up to $1.5 million per year.
Under Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program, parents can apply to receive a pre-loaded debit card to pay for educational expenses, including tuition for private schools that do not have the same state-mandated requirements.
Despite the fact that it does little to advance the status or interests of public schools, sponsor Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, claims that parents should be informed about other education options, including charter schools, private schools, open enrollment, homeschooling, tax credits and voucher-type programs.
The problem is that many parents are already informed, and for those that aren’t, information is easy to find.
Arizona is one of the leading states in school choice. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s office maintains a website that makes information on school choice easily accessible to the public. The Arizona Department of Education also has relevant programs available for those who do a quick search.
School choice is an open discussion in our state. The options are well known and well documented.
With such information within parents’ reach, there is no reason to send out information to inform them about school choices. They could just as easily find the information online. If Arizona parents are interested in other options, they certainly will — and should — search on their own.
In addition, the money to fund this endeavor would come out of Title 1, federal funding that provides financial assistance to local educational agencies and schools with high percentages of children from low-income families.
Using this money to send out handbooks to parents is plainly not an appropriate use of funds when education funds are already tight.
Title 1 funding would be more helpful in the hands of a public school with more students who are at risk for not meeting academic standards.
SB 1285 is not really about educating parents on their choices. It is part of a larger initiative to enable more students to attend private schools, for better or worse, and possibly at the expense of taxpayers.
Since the 1990s, Arizona has expanded ways for parents to more easily enroll their children in private, parochial and charter schools, including numerous tax credits for both individuals and corporations that donate to private school scholarship funds.
Legislators in Arizona have gone to great lengths to expand and extend these tax credits, which totaled over $60 million in lost state revenues in 2011.
That is $60 million funneled into scholarships for students to attend alternate schools, including those with religion in their curriculum (something that the Supreme Court found constitutional in 2011, but is not permitted in regular state-funded schools).
That is $60 million that could have gone into public education funding, meaning that either taxpayers will have to pay more to make up the difference, lest the school system suffers.
The handbook demanded by SB 1285 would amount to a similar misuse of funds.
It would equal $1.5 milion that could be used for struggling schools diverted to disseminate information for non-public school options — school options that might not save the state money in the long run, as it would mean more scholarships for private schools, more tax credits and therefore less state revenue.
More than 8,150 children would have to switch from public schools to private in order for the tax credit program to be revenue-neutral.
It would be best to shelve SB 1285 and instead use the Title 1 funds directly on Arizona’s public school system.
Tax credits and available information might seem like a great idea for interested parents, but it simply isn’t the responsibility of our state to directly or indirectly fund private schools.
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