By the numbers: the case for school vouchers in Arizona

This was originally published in the Tucson Weekly
It’s budget time up at our state Capitol, and the local dailies are trotting out the old stories about how Arizona is 57th in per-pupil spending compared to other states. O.K., they only claim 49th out of 51 (including Washington, D.C.)–but so did the states of Florida, Illinois, Tennessee, Idaho, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Utah, along with Arizona, in 2004. Perhaps we are closer to 57th than we think.

A lowball figure of a little more than $6,000 is given for Arizona per pupil spending, though surveys that included such miscellaneous items as capital purchases and new construction put the figure at around $8,500–alarmingly close to the national average.

What? You had no idea that the state was spending $8,500 per student per year? Well, you are not alone. According to a survey conducted by Hart and Teeter of Educational Testing Service, 72 percent of Americans do not have an accurate idea of the spending rate, and about half think that it is less than $5,000 per student.

Interestingly, the average tuition charged by private schools in Arizona is around $3,700. Why, if the state would just issue vouchers to parents in the amount of $4,000, they would end up educating twice as many students and still have a bunch of money left over for administrator junkets.

Yikes! I said the “V–word.” The National Education Association will not like that! They certainly would not want the parents of the students to screw things up after they spent all that time and money lobbying at the Arizona Legislature.

Speaking of the National Education Association, their Svengali sway over the mainstream media explains not only the fear-mongering over spending (including the use of fudged numbers), but it also explains the fixation with spending rates for government schools. It’s a twofer: It encourages the spending of more money that could potentially be spent on the members; and by making money the only factor that determines quality, it takes the focus away from member performance and accountability. Nice!

Unfortunately for the NEA, in spite of all the mainstream media hand-wringing over expenditures, the general public isn’t buying it. According to the same ETS survey, 51 percent of us do not believe that the problems facing American government schools are about money; rather, we believe that a combination of factors including lack of parental involvement, lack of discipline, ineffective teachers and administrations, etc., are of greater concern. Only 30 percent believe that the greatest problems are money-related. If that does not set the government-school bureaucrats to squirming in their seats, consider this: Only 6 percent of the people believe that there is no waste in education spending.

Unlike the professionals, we the people understand that it is how well the students are learning, not how much we are paying for the system, which is of the utmost importance. Few people outside the government education establishment would argue that government schools do anywhere near as good a job as private schools–and private schools do it for half the money. If resources were directed to schools that succeed–private or government–and denied to schools that fail, we would end up with lots of successful schools.

The NEA is a labor union; as such, its interests are in the success of its member-workers. The interests of the parents are in the success of their children–the students. If parents (who, by the way, generate the revenue in the first place) had a say in directing revenue, the interests of the students would be protected.

It’s time for an education voucher program in Arizona. Then parents could once again parent their children, and the NEA could go back to negotiating contracts and working conditions for its members.

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