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Public schools pivotal for democracy

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

We’ve long held that voucher programs violate the Arizona Constitution by funneling tax dollars to private schools – and Wednesday, the state Supreme Court agreed.

The court overturned two voucher programs created by a 2006 law to serve foster children and disabled students.

That law, which we opposed, allowed the state to make cash education grants to parents, who then must sign them over to the private schools.

That’s a clear violation of the Arizona Constitution, which prohibits appropriating tax money for private schools, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously.

Wrote Justice Michael D. Ryan: “The framers plainly intended that Arizona have a strong public school system to provide mandatory education.”

Hear, hear. It’s time our legislators sought to strengthen public schools instead of routinely seeking ways to funnel cash to private schools.

But the vouchers movement isn’t solely an Arizona problem. It’s a national movement, perceived by many as an effort to dismantle the nation’s entire network of public school systems.

That would be a disaster for many reasons:

• Public schools are held accountable. Indeed, under No Child Left Behind, they constantly have to demonstrate student performance on many subjects in multiple grades.

But at least citizens have plenty of data by which to gauge the performance of public schools, and that transparency is constantly increasing.

Parochial and other private schools need not divulge a thing – neither test scores nor anything about staff or student behavior or misbehavior. Everything’s a secret. So why should tax dollars go to clandestine, for-profit schools? They should not.

• Our public schools also must admit everyone – kids with physical disabilities, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, language barriers. Private schools can skim the cream off the top and bar everyone they don’t want.

• Public schools provide diversity; most of them teach our kids the reality of this melting pot republic, and none of them discriminate on any level – ethnic, economic, religious. But private schools can admit solely Catholic kids, or only Jewish kids, or only kids with certain academic achievement levels. Many of them countenance a homogenous environment, which isn’t the way of this world.

It’s easy to criticize public schools, because they’re the ones that by law must accept all students and report all results.

But in this democratic society, we don’t pay taxes to profit private business. We pay taxes for the common good.

The only real question about tax dollars here is why more of them aren’t pumped into public schools so all children in this nation have access to the equal, fundamental, high-quality education our forefathers promised them.

We don’t pay taxes so that private and church enterprises can profit. We pay taxes for the common good.

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