For 230 years, as of today, Americans have held these truths to be self-evident: “that all men are created equal … with certain inalienable rights … ”
And for 95 1/2 years – since Dec. 9, 1910 – Arizonans have lived by what is evident in the Arizona Constitution.
Article 2, Section 12, states in part: “No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise, or instruction, or to the support of any religious establishment.”
So how could our Legislature and Gov. Janet Napolitano approve $5 million in vouchers for religious and other private schools?
Legally, that dog won’t hunt.
Academically, vouchers haven’t improved student achievement anywhere.
And morally – on the high ground voucher proponents love to claim but cannot reach – vouchers do a disservice not only to children, but also to the very underpinnings of the democratic society whose foundation we celebrate today.
Only 38 percent of Americans support diversion of public money for private school tuition, the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll found last September.
Claims that vouchers provide limitless choice are untrue.
Private schools choose which students get in. And vouchers rarely cover the full tuition cost.
Public schools already include charter schools, magnet schools, arts schools, schools for the gifted and talented and a wide spectrum of other choices.
Private schools aren’t held accountable, as public schools are, by communities and state and federal governments.
So voucher programs have become a magnet for corruption, as people open faux schools to collect public money.
An unaccredited school in Miami-Dade County, for example, cashed vouchers for 18 students who were in public schools, would not refund the money, then got vouchers for 44 more kids but closed shop before winter break 2003, the Palm Beach Post reported.
The Florida Department of Education responded by demoting, then firing, the employee who reported the payments.
In Milwaukee, a principal spent $65,000 in voucher money to buy two Mercedes-Benzes, and his school admitted “inappropriately” cashing about $330,000 in voucher checks, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in 2004.
Arizona, of all places, should shun vouchers.
Aside from being unconstitutional, ineffective for children and prone to corruption, vouchers in Arizona will siphon more money from a public school system already sucking for air.
Arizona ranks 50th in per-pupil spending, at $5,474 in 2004-05 compared with the national average of $8,618.
Contrary to the conservative spin, here’s how vouchers really will affect our system:
Enroll your child in public school, and her district gets $5,474.
Get a voucher worth, say, $3,000 and put her in private school next year.
The district loses her $5,474. And the state loses $3,000 that could benefit our underfunded public schools.
That’s the double whammy.
Among other realities:
● Arizona teachers average 21.5 kids each, compared with 15.6 nationally, although small classrooms are proven to improve learning.
● Arizona teacher salaries average $42,905 gross (and I do mean gross), about $5,000 under the national average.
● Not surprisingly, Arizona’s 2006 grade for “resource equity” from Education Week is a D+.
So what do our fearless leaders do? Why, institute vouchers for Catholic, Christian and other private schools, of course.
Even state tax credits favor private schools.
As a single head of household, I can donate only $200 to a public school program for a full tax credit. But I can get a $500 tax credit if I give that much to a private school.
Arizona had more than 967,000 students in public K-12 schools last year.
For our mysterious private school population, the National Institution for Educational Statistics’ latest estimate is 44,360 in 2001.
In reality, the count likely exceeds 100,000, education officials believe.
Still, the overwhelming majority of more than 1 million kids is in public schools.
So while elitists would like private schools to feed from the public taxpayers’ trough, that isn’t how our democracy works.
American society – and the Arizona Constitution – call for public schools to be funded properly to provide opportunities to all children.
If you’re wealthy and want to send your child to private school, knock yourself out.
Most of us aren’t and don’t.
Any society that values its children supports education for all.
And for that, we can be proud as we celebrate America’s 230th birthday.
Billie Stanton may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4664.