Don’t Let HuffPo Scare You, School Choice is a GOOD Thing!

August 6, 2019 By admin No comments yet

A 2017 Huffington Post article has reemerged and is being floated around amongst activists in the Arizona RedforEd movement. It’s no secret that RedforEd is against school choice. Take a look through the Twitter accounts and hidden Facebook groups of those who are #stillRedforEd, and you’ll find a slough of anti-school-choice propaganda disguised as “well, it’s for the kids.” The national teacher’s union (National Education Association) and its state counterparts want a monopoly on public schools. Though many were aware of their tactics before 2018, their true colors emerged with the national RedforEd movement, and support for policies that undermine school choice and parent involvement in their children’s education.

      The Huffington Post article, titled “Top 10 Reasons School Choice is No Choice” gives an opinion why families should be wary of school choice and any school other than public.  It is riddled with half-truths, virtue signaling, and claims that dispute the facts. As it appears, some of the educators that parents trust with their children will stop at nothing to diminish parental and educational rights. It is time to set the record straight and delve into the facts about school choice.

Claim: Voucher Programs Almost Never Provide Students with Full Tuition

      Author Steven Singer comes in swinging with a half-truth that attempts to cause a rift between the wealthy and the poor. He ascertains that because vouchers do not always pay for the full tuition of private schools, wealthier families take advantage of something they should be able to afford.

      Note, Arizona does not use vouchers, as they were deemed unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court in 2009. Arizona uses Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA), which, contrary to RedforEd opinion, are not vouchers. Voucher programs allow public money to be used exclusively toward tuition, which essentially means the state was sending money to private and religious schools. ESAs allocate 90% of the student’s state funding to the parent to be used toward a variety of educational resources, including curriculum, tutoring, school fees and services, and uniforms. There are strict guidelines in using an ESA, and parents must submit expense reports every quarter to show how the money was utilized.

      A survey conducted by Ed Choice in 2013 found that while 39% of families who receive an ESA have an income above $71,000, 15% have an income below $28,000 and 19% of families have an income between $28,000 and $42,000. The same survey found that 85% of ESA families spent less than $2,500 of their own money in addition to the scholarship they received. Of that group, 24% of families did not spend any of their own money. Furthermore, because of the eligibility requirements, the majority of families who receive an ESA have a child with some sort of learning, physical, or mental disability. Parents reported that the public schools their children previously attended did not provide occupational therapy, or that the staff were not trained or adequately prepared to deal with their children’s disabilities, or that their children were not thriving in the public school. Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are not being abused. Families who need them, those who deserve an opportunity to provide their children with a quality education, are using them.  

On a side note, Arizona legislators introduced a bill in early 2019 that would have added low-income as a qualification for ESAs, but unfortunately, it did not pass through any committee. 

Claim: Charter and Voucher Schools Don’t Have to Accept Everyone

      This may be true in other states, but Arizona schools are required by law to enroll all eligible students who submit an application on time. Under Arizona Revised Statutes 15-184 (Charter School Admission Requirements), “a charter school shall not limit admission based on ethnicity, national origin, gender, income level, disabling condition, proficiency in the English language or athletic ability.” Though charter schools can give enrollment preference to returning students or students transferring from another charter school, children in foster care or who are homeless, children of staff members or the governing board, they must accept any student who turns in an application on time. When a charter school is beyond capacity, they will use a selection process, such as a lottery, to accept students.

      Personally speaking, if a school is unable to meet the specific needs of a student, they should be upfront about their inability to serve, and should recommend that the child go elsewhere. RedforEd supporters make the claim that public schools serve every student regardless of the student’s education, disability, or behavior. However, considering that one of the top reasons families leave public schools is because of concerns about the quality of education, it is dishonest and unfair to advertise that public schools serve everyone adequately.

Claim: Charter Schools are notorious for kicking out hard to teach students

         Arizona teachers protest that charter schools wait until after the 100th day of school—which is reportedly when the state counts students to determine school funding for the rest of the year—to kick out low-performing students. They argue that this leaves public schools to pick up those students without receiving the extra funding, and that charter schools get away with the money and stellar test scores. However, there is just no evidence to support this ludicrous accusation.

      Former Arizona School Boards Association president-elect, Lawrence Johnson, said in an interview with AZ Central, that Roosevelt School District sees a spike in attendance after the 100th day of school. Even if this is true, it is unlikely that all of those students are coming from charter schools. In fact, the US Department of Education reported that in 2014, the Roosevelt Elementary School District suspended 999 students from their 19 schools. The 14 charter schools within 10 miles of the Roosevelt School District documented 509 suspensions. It is unclear how many of those suspensions led to expulsions, but notable that public schools had an ample number of disciplinary actions compared to charter schools in the area.

      Though there is no data that documents why a student was expelled, under the Arizona Revised Statues, charter schools cannot discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, national origin, gender, income level, disabling condition, proficiency in the English language, or athletic ability. It is absurd to suggest that charter schools kick out students simply because they are hard to teach.

Claim: Voucher and charter schools actually give parents less choice than traditional public schools

      The author claims that public schools have different rules than charters, being that charters are not accountable to the public. The common transparency argument is that parents of public schools can air their grievances to a duly elected and public school board, while those in charter schools are left in the dark. However, in 2000, Attorney General Janet Napolitano released an opinion stating that Arizona’s Open Meeting Law, which requires that public bodies conduct their business in public meetings, (ARS 38-431.01), applies to the governing board of charter schools if a quorum of the governing board is present and if matters discussed could come to a vote.

 Charter Schools do no better and often much worse than traditional schools

      While this may be true in other states, it is not so in Arizona. In fact, nine of the top ten high schools in Arizona in 2018 were charter schools. The one public high school (University High School, in Tucson) has rigorous academics and serves students who are academically focused and intellectually gifted. The top ten elementary schools in Arizona in 2018 were charter schools.

      The National Assessment for Educational Progress further shows that students in charter schools outperform their peers in district and private schools in every grade level and in every subject tested. According to the NAEP scores released in mid-2018, “Arizona charter students rank first in the nation in eighth-grade math, and second for eighth grade reading” (AZ Charter School Association). 

 

Claim: Charter and voucher schools increase segregation

      Not only is this is not true at all, given the previous claim that charter and voucher schools only benefit the affluent, it also implies that white kids are rich and non-white kids are poor. RedforEd teachers love touting that school choice only benefits affluent, white families, and leaves the black and brown families in the dust. It is necessary for them to do so because they cannot argue against the indisputable fact that charter schools perform better than public schools. In order to make charter schools look bad, they have to twist the data with untrue and racist claims.

      Representatives from Save Our Schools Arizona, made the distasteful claim in a 2017 interview, that families choosing charter schools is the new “white flight,” and that charter schools are taking “affluent, white, Christian kids out of the schools that are infested with people who don’t look like them, don’t believe like them, don’t live like them.” Arizona Representative Isela Blanc, at an April 2019 Arizona Education Association meeting claimed that our schools are segregated and that Arizona politicians—in regards to ESA and school choice programs—are incentivizing affluent families to send their kids to private schools, because the majority of public schools are filled with minorities.

      According to the Arizona Department of Education’s enrollment data from October 2016, “55% of Arizona charter students identify in racial and ethnic groups other than white.” The gap in diversity between non-white and white students has been slowly growing since 2012 when 52% of students were non-white. ADE data shows that charter schools “currently serve higher percentages of African-American, Asian, and multiracial students than districts.” 

Claim: Charter and Voucher schools take away funding at traditional public schools

      This argument should raise a red flag for both parents of school-age children and anyone who values individual freedom. Unionized public school teachers will gripe that because education funds follow any student with a voucher, the public school loses money. When this happens, they say that those who are left behind are kept from receiving a quality education. This is collectivism at its finest. It says that parents should care more about everyone else’s child than they should about their own and that they should feel guilty for making their own child’s success a priority. 

      Now, if the Arizona teachers’ union were indeed “red for kids,” as their newly minted slogan suggests, they would champion families choosing the best education for their children. They would agree that per-pupil spending should indeed fund the pupil’s education and follow wherever he or she decides to go to school. However, they believe public funding belongs to the school, not to the student. The collectivist culture, which RedforEd has adopted, suggests that the 95% of families who choose public schools should take priority over the 5% who do not.

 

Claim: Properly funding parallel school systems would be incredibly wasteful and expensive

      The gist of the argument here is that funding education for everyone is exorbitantly expensive, unless that money is directed only toward public schools. Activists argue that giving money to multiple school systems is inefficient because it necessitates more government spending for each individual administration and building, extra school resources, staff, and infrastructure. 

      Interestingly, charter schools receive less government money than their district counterparts. According to Arizona’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee for the fiscal year 2018, the average cost to taxpayers for each student enrolled in public school was $9,859, compared to $8,767 for each student enrolled in charter schools. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that educational outcomes improve when schools receive more funding. According to 2019 AzMERIT scores, only 46% of Arizona 3rd graders are proficient in reading. New York, which has the highest per-pupil spending at over $22,000, has only 45% of their 3rd graders proficient in reading. To further illustrate the discrepancy between funding and educational outcomes, the chart below shows NAEP scores for 4th and 8th graders between 2003 and 2018. Despite any increase or decrease in school funding, there is virtually no change in test scores.

 

      The issue, therefore, isn’t with increased spending, as it is completely acceptable for Arizona teachers to demand that the government funnel more money exclusively into public schools. The issue is that the Arizona Education Association utterly despises charter schools. They receive less money than public schools and manage to churn out better results. For the teacher’s union, who focuses one, on the well-being of public school teachers and two, on their desire to monopolize education, that simply won’t do.  

 

Claim: School choice takes away attention from the real problems in our public schools – poverty and funding equity

     The Southern Education Foundation reported that in 2013, 51% of children in public schools qualified for free and reduced lunches. In the same year, 21 states reported that the majority of public school students came from low-income families. This is a heartbreaking statistic, and it illustrates exactly why families need access to their choice of quality education.

     While it is true that public schools rely heavily on property taxes for funding, low-income schools qualify for extra funding through the federal Title I program. Title I dollars are allocated to schools based on the number of low-income students they have. These funds, which are distributed by the US Department of Education to the state education departments, are used to improve educational outcomes and experiences for low-income students. Schools that receive Title I funding must meet yearly progress goals in student achievement, and provide opportunities for parents to be involved in their child’s education. According to the Arizona Department of Education, during the 2014-2015 school year, 1,286 public schools in Arizona received Title I funding.

      Education activists will argue that because schools in poor areas receive less money than schools in rich areas, poor families will be stuck in a cycle of poverty until their schools are fully funded. However, test score data across the nation does not improve with more money; funneling more and more money into school does not solve the problem of a poor education. Poor families need access to a quality education, which is why school choice is essential. 

Claim: School choice is not supported by a grassroots movement. It is supported by billionaires

      And at last, here is the age-old argument that conservative billionaires (read: The Koch Brothers and Betsy Devos) are actively trying to dismantle public education and steal tax dollars. Now is probably an inconvenient time to point out the National Education Association along with its state counterparts collected a $1.6 billion revenue during the 2015-2016 school year. Their revenue is likely higher after the teacher strikes in 2018. This is the same association that built RedforEd, the political grandstand that continues to hold our children’s education hostage. It’s the same association that publicly endorses democratic candidates during election years. It’s the same association that voted no on a business item for the upcoming year that stated it would “re-dedicate itself to the pursuit of increased student learning in every public school in America by putting a renewed emphasis on quality education.” It’s the same association that, instead, voted to allow all public sector employees to join and pay dues to the association. Then they incorporated topics about white fragility, social justice, and LGBTQ inclusion into staff trainings. They partner with organizations pushing for reparations and defending illegal immigrants. They push for climate change to be taught in science classes, and to defend the right for a woman to have an abortion. It is evident that the dismantling of public education is coming directly from the teachers union and RedforEd. 

Bottom Line

The lies presented in the Huffington Post article illustrate the need for parents to be involved in discussions about education. Parents know their own children best, and they have a right to choose an education that fits their family. Though there may be a handful of charter schools that are “bad apples,” it does not constitute the complete destruction of choice for Arizona families. School choice does not equal the end of public education; rather, it gives parents the right to choose a quality education for their children, one that meets their needs and one that will bring positive educational outcomes. 

RedforEd activists are trying to dismantle school choice and strip parents of their rights over their own children’s education. If school choice is going to stay, it is up to parents to fight against the radical agenda of the National Education Association, the Arizona Education Association, and RedforEd. Our children’s education and future depend on us standing up for them. 

 

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