Column: Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) threaten schools
Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, which divert education resources from public schools to private schools, will further weaken the effectiveness of our community schools and society at large. Instead of using public funds to finance private schools, we should be focused on increasing funding for an underfunded state institution that is vital to a dynamic democracy and, in doing so, preserve the community school.
I am an advocate for “community” schools, the public schools like Prescott High School, or Del Rio Elementary in Chino Valley, or Liberty Traditional School in Prescott Valley. They are often called neighborhood schools. I grew up, like most voters, attending these schools. Eighty-five percent of State Legislative District 1’s (SDL1) school children attend these schools. Community schools are where we expected to sit in class next to folks from all walks of life, of all ethnic, racial, and economic backgrounds. We came to appreciate how these schools tended to unify our communities’ diversity around a shared educational experience and democratic value, a shared football team and marching band, a common curriculum taught by those great teachers who became imbedded in our memories and our common folklore. These are places where our parents could rub shoulders and converse about town matters, proclaim their football team the best in the state and relish how Mrs. Kindergarten teacher has gotten all our kids to get along on the playground and learn the entire alphabet. Community schools are special places where we learn about our common humanity. These schools are manifestations of a society that values universal education to create equal opportunities for all Americans. Community schools are at risk in Arizona.
ESAs emanate from the privatization of public schools/choice movement and are anti-democratic, un-American, and out of sync with most voters, who value community schools. ESAs result in the segregation of our schools along economic lines, separating the rich from the poor, and, in turn, segregating our schools ethnically and racially, leaving all good citizens and future voters behind. The evidence of this is documented in the Arizona Republic article, State Money Helping Wealthier Arizona Kids go to Private Schools (July 7, 2016). Among the Republic’s findings about ESAs are: wealthier areas receive much higher benefits than do poorer areas; “the program penalizes the state’s better-performing public schools as ESA payments reduce their budgets;” “It essentially gives the wealthy a discount at a private school;” and “expanding the program to include all students in public school would drain huge amounts of money from public schools, leaving behind children at poorer-performing schools.” The net effect is to polarize our communities further and weaken the schools upon which we
rely to unify American culture.
In a recent candidates forum on the subject of school funding sponsored by the Northern Arizona Interfaith Council, Republican David Stringer informed the crowd that we “can expect to see the expansion of ESAs whether we like it or not,” and he supports them. Since 85 percent of Arizona’s students attend community schools, we can vote down Mr. Stringer’s arrogant assertion and, instead, support the candidate who will work to end the school-funding battle, Peter Pierson. He will fight to prevent the growth of ESAs and the privatization of education/choice movement and increase the funding for our community schools. The additional funds are needed to recruit and retain the best teachers in the country, reduce class sizes, support the supplies, equipment and programs necessary for a 21st century education and repair and maintain worn and broken facilities.
To support candidates who support ESAs is to direct tax funds away from community schools and into private schools. Do not accept what Mr. Stringer believes to be inevitable, and, instead, heed the advice of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote, invest in public education to nurture “an aristocracy of virtue and talent,” which nature has provided and “scattered with equal hand” through all of society. This will serve the nation better than investing only in “an aristocracy of wealth.” Vote for Peter Pierson. He will invest our taxes in a sure bet: all of our children, the communities in which they live and a dynamic democracy.
Mike Fogel, Librarian/Boys Basketball Coach, Chino Valley High School.