Editorial: Lawmakers need to quit tipping the education playing field

In 1994 Arizona lawmakers decided to make this state the leading laboratory for school choice, giving its citizens options on where to educate their children. Parents took advantage of the change and charter schools now teach more than 16 percent of the students in Arizona.

Two decades later, however, Arizona ranks 48th out of 51 (including Washington, D.C.) in the nation in educating its children, according to WalletHub’s annual survey. The financial website scores Arizona at 35.03, ahead of Alaska (34.36), New Mexico (33.30) and Louisiana (30.33).

WalletHub’s experts use 17 relevant metrics to compare the states, including graduation rates, dropout rates, test scores, percentage of graduates who completed Advance Placement exams, and average SAT scores.

According to a 2014 U.S. Census Bureau report (the most recent), Arizona ranks 49th out of 51 in how much it spends on education per capita, which is $7,528 per pupil. Only Idaho ($6,621) and Utah ($6,500) spend less.

Two decades of having one of the most generous school choice programs in the nation have yet to show positive results it backers hoped the entire state would see.

With those numbers in mind, it is irresponsible for the Legislature to pass an expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Account and Gov. Doug Ducey to sign it into law.

The ESA voucher program was originally passed to help special needs students. Now, it has been expanded to all students with a cap of 30,000 students in 2022. One of the backers of the law has promised supporters that the cap will eventually be removed.

Private and religious schools will now be receiving public funds, and public schools will be receiving fewer dollars as a result. All three of the Prescott region’s representatives, Sen. Karen Fann, and Representatives Noah Campbell and David Stringer, voted in favor.

We believe they were wrong to support vouchers.

School choice only works when everyone is competing on an equal playing field. Instead of giving public schools a chance to compete, the Legislature has spent the past two decades cutting back their funds.

Private and religious schools have other sources of funding, from tuitions they charge, to endowments, to contributions from alumni, to fundraisers. Public schools must rely on lawmakers who have been starving their districts for funds for 20 years.

If lawmakers truly believe in school choice and that competition will help bring about better education, then they have a responsibility to create that even playing field. They need to fully fund public education to give them a chance to compete. Instead, they now have approved a system where more public school money will be taken away and given to their competition.

This is a one-sided competition, and the 85 percent of public school children in this state are the losers.

The Daily Courier