AZ Republic: Arizona’s school-voucher expansion bill returns, but with a twist

A recent Arizona Republic investigation found that most children using the [Empowerment Scholarship Accounts voucher] program are leaving high-performing public schools in wealthy districts…

There are currently about 2,400 students participating. The program costs the state about $27 million a year from the general fund.

Folks, that’s $11,250 per student, per year; while the legislature funds the public school system at the rate of about $3000 per student…with another $5000 from local and federal sources, to make a total of $8000.

How is that more efficient? How is it even constitutional?

Source: Arizona’s school-voucher expansion bill returns, but with a twist

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15 Comments

    1. Thanks for your comment and question, Mark.

      My understanding is that the state rationalized the original tuition tax credit program as being constitutional because the money in question isn’t actually collected, thus it isn’t “public money,” or “tax money.”

      Philosophically I disagree with that and believe that a strong argument could be made (given the resources to “make” it in court) that it amounts to a constructive 14th Amendment “equal protection” violation in forgiving tax that should be collected for general distribution so that it can be paid privately to the school of one’s choice.

      The vouchers, however, are money that’s already been collected, so that’s a much more clearcut violation.

      1. Hi John,
        Seems a real stretch that this would violate the 14th amendment. Wasn’t that written after the civil war to make sure all the Confederates would enjoy the same rights as the North? A voucher just gives parents a much broader choice as to where to send their kid so if they can’t afford a nicer school they aren’t forced to send their kid to the government provided school.

        1. I’m not an expert on the Constitution, which is one reason I framed the conclusion as question rather than a statement. However…

          You are correct about the Reconstruction time-frame of the passage of the 14th Amendment. On the other hand, the motivation is largely understood to have been to define rights not of “Confederates,” but of former slaves.

          The “equal protection” portion came to apply to education partly through Brown v Board of Education. While I’m not aware of any case law regarding public funding for private school students, there is clearly disparity created when some families benefit from more expensive schooling not available to others and at the expense of the public school systems.

          1. Hi John,
            I think it’s the exact opposite.
            Poor families who would not have the opportunity to go to the more expensive schools would then have the opportunity to attend with the use of a voucher.

  1. According to the Republic article which I was reposting, the income cutoff is $44,863. Which means if the income is $44,864, this option is not available.

    So, for some “poor families,” this is NOT an opportunity.

    Furthermore, my objection is not that poor families have access to educational ALTERNATIVES, but there is no mandate in the Constitution or elsewhere (except now Arizona Revised Statutes) that poor families must have access to “more EXPENSIVE schools.”

    Worst of all is that every kid that leaves the public school to go to a private school that is more expensive, takes with them the per-pupil funding of our current formula, PLUS takes money from the General Fund that would have done other, perhaps more important things.

    The article says, “A recent Arizona Republic investigation found that most children using the program are leaving high-performing public schools in wealthy districts.”

    So the big question becomes, are they really better off at the more expensive private schools…enough so to justify shifting the burden to other students, some of whom don’t qualify?

    1. I didn’t see the income cutoff but yeah I would agree there shouldn’t be any cutoff. I really don’t care if there is a “mandate” in the constitution that says poor families should have access to other schools or not. If we as a society have decided that the government should fund education, then it should be done efficiently and effectively. And if the goal is education, why would it matter which school the money goes to? I don’t see how shifting the money to another school “shifts the burden” to other students. Seems to me a private school would be much less wasteful with that money than the government provided school would be, an I would much rather the parents had that choice to determine whether or not their kids are better off at the more expensive private schools, than you and I.

  2. If spending via these vouchers costs (on average) $11,250/ student/year, and the cost for public education is $8000/ student/year, how is that “more efficient?”

    The burden gets shifted because it’s a zero-sum game. There’s only so much money per student available to fund education. If it costs more for a student at one school, the the students at schools that otherwise would have received the funding and perhaps could have otherwise provided an even more comprehensive educational experience are now shot.

    1. OK, that’s news to me. I didn’t realize it would cost an extra $3250 per student. If that’s the case, then that does change everything. I would like to see that number brought down significantly. From all I’ve read in the past on vouchers, it has always been less expensive per student and therefore a net savings for the state.

      1. Since public schools have sunk cost in school campuses, taking per-pupil funding away from them by any means (charter schools, private school vouchers, whatever) INCREASES per-pupil load for operations and maintenance. That’s LESS efficient, by any measure.

        1. A sunk cost is a cost that is already made that should not alter your future decisions. I can see your point, but I still think it would be worth that cost in the short term, even if those schools were to have to shut down completely in order to offer a better education to the next generation. Understand I don’t believe the schools will shut down because nothing is better than a little competition for customers (students/parents) to help improve things in the public schools.

  3. The o & m facilities expenses are a direct result of the sunk cost (money spent to build the facilities), and unlike sunk cost, they are ongoing expenses.

    The private schools referenced in my post and the AZC article are not in competition with the school districts, because they aren’t required to accommodate all comers.

    There may be some benefit to having private schools and privately-owned charter schools, but anyone who prides themselves on their Economics 101 verbiage ought to also understand that this situation is NOT competition.

    1. OK, maybe I’m not understanding how this works. How would they not be in competition for students just because the (non-public) schools aren’t forced to take everyone? They should still both be actively trying to attract paying customers right? As far as the daily overhead expenses, wouldn’t those eventually go away as well if the schools no longer have any students who decide to go there? I’ve seen a number of public schools close down over the years and now the properties have been purchased up by private owners who open their businesses in their place be they schools or other institutions.

  4. Use of words like “forced” and “non-public” is less than precise.

    The public school districts are required by law to in essence accept all comers. The same law applies to charter schools, which are by definition “public” schools, even though they are usually privately owned.

    The problem comes in when–as is pretty well documented–the charters quietly discourage special needs families, thus relieving themselves of the burden of higher (sometimes much higher) cost to provide services to special needs students.

    If you don’t see this as anti-competitive behavior, you flunk Business 101.

    Sure maintenance and overhead costs for facilities operations will eventually go away if the school districts have NO students AND they sell the land/buildings. Until then, the long downhill slide and associated bleeding continues to drain funds disproportionately to other educational costs.

    But there’s also another cost to consider. Suppose the pendulum swings back the other way and there’s more demand for public schools AFTER the facilities have been sold? The cost of acquisition of land FAR exceeds the M&O savings gained by the previous sale.

    1. Hi John,
      I think you bring up good points although I do suppose they could discourage special needs children all they want but if they are forced to accept them, would it really matter if they were discouraged? I would be curious what percentage of our children are considered special needs in terms of a deficit they would cost the school vs. what they bring in. My guess is that the benefits of competition in the school system far outweigh that concern as well as any possibility of the pendulum swinging back towards a strong demand for government provided schools.

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