Letter: School choice
In response to Buz Williams’ column about school choice, I thought it important to point out a few facts. I am not sure Mr. Williams is aware of this, but funding for schools in Arizona has been cut drastically from where it was 10 or 15 years ago. I think we are all aware here in Prescott of the effect that has had on Prescott Unified School District (PUSD) and the major changes in its structure; i.e. having to close two schools and completely change the path of students from primary to secondary. I just hope the board will reconsider selling any more of its properties.
I attended PUSD schools in the 1980s. My children all attended PUSD in the past 10 years. My youngest child is a junior this year at Prescott High School (PHS). The difference from when I was at PHS and my boys’ experience is telling. In the time I attended, we had drivers’ education, there were ample opportunities for arts, language studies (Russian, Latin, Spanish and French), band and sports. All funded by the school budget. The experience for my children has been very different, with most of these programs having been cut.
So, the response by Mr. Williams, and from the leaders in our state, to emphasize “school choice” as an alternative to address these problems is an offense. It is code for “privatize education” — and we have years of experience with charter schools here in Arizona. A report released last year by the Grand Canyon Institute found that charter schools in Arizona spent $128 million dollars more in administration than public schools in the year prior. Per pupil, public schools spent an average of $628 on administration, charter schools averaged $1,403. And the large corporate charters are the worst offenders. BASIS, Inc. with 8,730 students, total, spent nearly $12 million; that is 30 times what the six largest districts combined, with 225,000 students, spent on general administration per pupil. And this is not classroom spending.
The reason is these publicly-funded institutions most often contract out their management function to for-profit corporations. And that’s where accountability is lost. Fraud is an issue, evidenced by on-going investigations in several states, including California, Michigan and Louisiana.
The most offensive thing of all is the fact that charter and public schools are not on a level playing field. PUSD cannot turn away students for any of the reasons charter schools are allowed: religious, academic, disability and others.
Accountability is key. The report makes three suggestions on improving accountability including publishing administrative and classroom spending, publishing management compensation data and the collection and monitoring of general data by the Auditor General’s office.