Monday, December 22, 2008

Goldwater Institute: Year end education wrap up

By Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.

Year end is the time to make your scholarship tax credit donation. Darcy Olsen, Clint Bolick, and I serve on the board of the Arizona School Choice Trust, which allows the widest possible choice of schools and focuses aid exclusively on low-income children. Many other quality options are available however, so give if you can!

Speaking of tax credits, the Arizona School Board Association is calling for the suspension of the scholarship tax credits as a way for the state to save money. Getting children into private schools with $2,000 of foregone revenue, however, is cheaper than the $8,000 plus spent to keep a child in the public school system. So, if the legislature wants to save money, they should expand the private school scholarship tax credit. Suspending it will increase costs to the state as children return to public schools, and their education will be disrupted to boot.

And speaking of the School Board Association, I had the opportunity to debate Andrew Morrill, Vice President of the Arizona Education Association, on teacher certification at the ASBA legislative conference last week. I was pleasantly surprised by Morrill's openness to evidence regarding the inability of teacher certification to predict student gains.

Shortly thereafter the Arizona Republic quoted Mr. Morrill on special needs voucher program that is now in the hands of the Arizona Supreme Court. Morrill opined that the program lacked "transparency" and "accountability."

Thanks to NAEP, also known as the Nation's Report Card, you can't say that about public schools. The percentage of Arizona students with disabilities scoring "Below Basic" on both fourth and eighth grade reading is more than 13 percent higher than the already abysmal national average. Where is the accountability in this? And how will taking away the ability of children to transfer to better schools enhance it?

My hope for next year is that Arizona lawmakers will focus on reforms with a proven track record for improving performance across the board.

Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president of research at the Goldwater Institute.

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