Revolution of School Choice Capitalizes on Current Trends

  by Gayle Plato-Besley, M. Ed.

Public educational funding is the crux of political complaints;  liberal candidates say dollars will fix our schools.  The American Legislative Exchange Council adeptly presented an accounting of state and federal funding of education.  The report shows how throwing money at students does not correlate with their learning.

“The 2007 Report Card once again illustrates that simply increasing spending on education is not enough to improve student performance. The information, analysis, and measurements in this report confirm there is no evident correlation between pupil-to-teacher ratios, spending per pupil, and teacher salaries on the one hand, and educational achievement as measured by various standardized test scores, on the other. In other words, lawmakers need to consider the fact that they cannot spend their way to improved student achievement and must look beyond these conventional measures of educational investment to find the keys to educational excellence.(”

(Please see the State of Arizona report card:

If you look at the Arizona numbers, one might take from it that Arizona does not care about it’s children enough to spend money on it’s poorly educated kids.  That take is exactly the push of the Arizona Education Association and countless liberal educators and politicians trying to get us to spend.  The fact is, public spending is not the answer.  School Choice is a clear winner for Arizona’s youth:

There is solid evidence that Arizona’s charter school students start at lower levels of achievement (often after having left a conventional public school) but make faster academic gains. There is also solid evidence from both Phoenix and Tucson showing that public schools facing competition for students have significantly higher annual test score gains.(”

Yet, there is a ongoing battle between the public educational system, parochial, private, and now charters to get your kids in the door and collect the monies allocated.  Right now there is more debate and pending legislation on vouchers, tax credits, and public per student funding.  The way our state determines per student funding is vague at best.  Thankfully, the Goldwater Institute figured out the per student amount that travels with the child wherever he attends, and the funds that stay with the local district regardless of attendence.  Basically, the State of Arizona spends $8,500.00-$9000.00 per student – regular education.  Special Education is another matter dependent on the disability and placement.  A special education student does not have total autonomy regarding Arizona’s current open enrollment policy.  Is that even legal under the basic concepts of PL 94-142?  Schools can have program overlapping- offering the same curricula as the home school. Yet, a learning disabled child may not attend a school of choice if the local school district does not release him.  Open enrollment is not truly comprehensive.

But based on current accounting, School Choice saves money. The report states:

“If five percent of public school students in Arizona, roughly 40,000, transferred to private schools using elementary education grants worth $3,500 and high school education grants worth $4,500—both less than current state base equalization funding—the net savings to the state and local districts would have amounted to $32 million in fiscal year 2003 (”

So my simple proposal is this: Remove the status of public v. private and offer Universal Choice.  Each school accepting public funds must show transparant outcomes: fiscal responsibility, testing-based achievement,  and teacher certification.  In return, all schools receive equal amounts with no regard to religion or basic make-up of the campus.  If all guidelines of civil rights and ethical practices are followed (as is already mandated for all schools), the school gets the entire funding allocated.  Critical factor- all special education opportunities are equally open based on the parent’s choice of program.  No school is required to offer programs beyond need, and can contract out as it sees fit. You may not see every school housing high-need programs, but then, they don’t now.

Schools already farm out many services (one elementary may specialize in hearing impaired while another in behavior disorders); if there truly was full funding whether a large public school or a small charter, parents could choose the school offering the best opportunity.  With this, schools compete for students at every level of competency.  In turn, open up the public schools to more private funding drives ( advertisements on buses or corporate sponsors are current examples).

 Funding of all education could be a fluid process of simplified and concise guidelines. Accountability will become the main role of the state (universal fiscal standards, certification, and testing for achievement)  Magnet schools, tailored gifted programs, or alternative learning centers become featured specialties.  Schools that compete create better student learning and stronger teachers.  Arizona is a frontrunner in School Choice Reform. We could revolutionize the concept one next level, opening up a world of free market education.


  1. The debate over delivery of educational services has been based on a “winner-take-all” attitude of vouchers being all good or choice as all bad. Charters are either a solid, public alternative to district schools or a money draining, inferior approach with less regulation.

    Neither approach serves student or families with the best we have to offer.

    The Milwaukee program has made vouchers available for many years; however recent findings do not show gains in student achievement. Are parents and students happier, more satisfied, do they feel their tax dollars actually represent their views on education as it pertains to their child? Is this a value in itself and represent a quality of life opportunity at no more cost than the strictly traditional public system? The DC voucher program has yet to produce the gains hoped for; yet families may recognize a positive result that is not measurable on a Scantron bubble sheet.

    Programs that are capped, have limits on number of users, and do not offer public schools any relief from the restricting regulations only masquerade as choice and have no hope of ever offering true gains to all.

    The availability of a quality, neighborhood public school should be the first round of choice for parents. Tuition by zip code is plainly un-American. No child should be subjected to a limited education with diminished quality of experience based on the ability of the parent to either transport to or pay for a better offering. Not when educational support is tax based and not in a country that hopes to maintain any standing in the world.

    A true free market system would offer all comers the same regulations and obligations. The issue of religious education is a non-contender, as attendance would be based on a choice and not a mandate. If and when all things are equal between all entities that accept a dime of public funding, or from a publicly originated source, then we will have true choice and true competition will be seen.

    Having been a long time public school supporter I truly believe transparency from all users, mirrored regulations and requirements, and equality in funding would be a system truly designed to benefit our public and produce legitimate gains in achievement.

  2. Could you expand on what you believe a “publicly originated source” to mean?

    You bring a clearly informed background to the discussion Ann. I appreciate reading your insights.

  3. I think the idea of school choice needs to be combined with a restructuring of our public schools.
    – Bag any ideas of tenure for teachers. Industry has done this and suddenly people who had stopped working are either spurred into action, or out of a job.
    – Make up a state board of administrators from the top 10 schools in the state (voluntary or paid), whether they are private, charter or public and have them start with the worst districts over every aspect of education, including budget, standards, programs, teacher incentive…. everything. It is obvious that some do this well and some don’t. Let’s get it going in the right direction.

  4. A publicly originated source is, to me, any funding that was a result of direct tax or in lieu of a tax, such a tax credit since the source of the generating entity was public not private. If funding is from a tax credit granted by a public source, such as the legislature, they are publicly originating funds due to public policy.

    There are private schools that do not want to be associated with any government control or influence and some that do; the ability to opt out and remain autonomous with the knowledge they cannot receive any state should be an option.

    The concept of “best practices” is paramount if any true reform is to ever be accomplished. There are certainly schools with performance that flies in the face of the statistics and conventional thinking in terms of student performance; limited English, high poverty, etc…these schools and programs should be the example. There are schools with all the indicators for achievement yet fail to perform as well as they should, this too is an indication of what is not a “best practice”.

    Competition is a two-edged sword and can result in a hierarchy of knowledge that is not too comfortable with sharing, lest others too do well. Shared success is the key to eliminating the withholding of such cooperation.

    And of course…..When the public recognizes that the teacher’s union is not a professional organization but a labor union designed to meet the needs of its members, none of whom take the AIMS test, we can really have this discussion. Until then, it is all talk.

  5. I should hope that the goal of educators, regardless of setting, should be to share information that is working for the betterment of Arizona’s students. We have enough strikes against us in raising kids in today’s culture to be turf oriented.

    Thank you for clarifying the characterization of funding. I had never heard that expression used, but it makes sense.

  6. Carol,

    My reference to the possibility of not sharing was from a future competition stand point. I do not have any reason to hold that the current culture is one of a proprietary nature, withholding that which would serve all in order to promote a self-interest.

    It was more a possibility of the New England Patriots mentality; competition does strange things to normally very good people.

  7. Every human being should have the opportunity to make a better life for themselves. Unfortunately, too many children in the world today grow up without this chance, because they are denied their basic right to even attend primary school. A sustainable end to world poverty as we know it, as well as the path to peace and security, requires that citizens in every country are empowered to make positive choices and provide for themselves and their families.
    Lets all join this campaign:

  8. Antifederalist says

    Granted, the Arizona constitution requires that public education be as nearly free as possible, but the federal Constitution does not. I’m sorry, I just don’t think that simply because a human being draws breath that he is ENTITLED to, that’s has a RIGHT to, an education, ESPECIALLY if it’s on someone else’s dime. Same with health care. Also, the Bible tells us that there will ALWAYS be poor individuals. Granted, we should endeavor to help the poor, but we will NEVER ERADICATE poverty. Great pipe dreams there, but this is probably the wrong forum to push that head-in-the-clouds leftist agenda. Whatever you’re smokin’, you should share, cause it sounds like great stuff!

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