Wednesday, January 26, 2005

AZ Legislative Brief: Charter Schools Prosper at the Expense of Public Schools

Drunk with power coming out of national and state elections, the Messianic Militarist wing of the GOP is rolling out its legislative agenda in Arizona, and they are not holding much back. One of the top targets for the GOP is destroying public schools and promoting private ones. A set of bills has been introduced to further that goal.

HB 2378 gives a direct corporate income tax credit of up to 10 million dollars in 2006, scaling up to 50 million a year in 2014, for donations to private schools, or non-profits which provide scholarships to private schools, ONLY for private schools, not for contributions to public schools. This is part of a concerted effort to drain off yet another source of public revenue directly into the coffers of private schools at the expense of public institutions. This attack is coupled to an expansion of the program providing direct individual income tax credits for donations to either public or private schools via concurrently introduced bills in the House (HB 2379) and Senate (S 1081). The attack proceeds under the guise of eliminating the so-called ‘marriage penalty’. Yet these bills first increase the deduction for singles (to $500) and then double it for married couples (to $1000), further eroding the tax base of public schools and redirecting taxpayer money into private schools.

Now, I am not against tax credits to schools. In fact, given the tight-fisted habits of our legislature (Arizona is 48th in K-12 per capita educational spending), I think credits can be a good way to by-pass the shortsighted, anti-education Messianic Militarists who have taken over our state. However, I give my credit to failing or marginal schools in an under-funded area, not to the school across the street from me. Credits tend to go overwhelmingly to schools that really don’t need the added revenue. These tax credits are a sneak attack on public schools, especially those in economically depressed areas that are already under-funded. This manipulation of our tax base to favor private schools is a top priority for the GOP; in fact, diverting more money away from public schools pretty much is the extent of the GOP’s educational policy.

The final prong of this coordinated attack on public schools comes from an unexpected direction. Senate Concurrent Resolution 1010 seeks to place a measure on the 2006 ballot which will require a supermajority (2/3 vote in both houses) in the legislature to authorize or require local taxing authorities to raise additional revenue. This would have wide effect on sub-state taxing authorities, essentially giving the legislature a veto over new revenues for all governmental units in the state. One type of taxing authority that would be subject to this legislative veto would, of course, be local public school districts and the governmental units that fund them. 1010 will result in a minority of the legislature being able to starve public schools of new funding, and don’t believe for a moment that this is accidental: it’s the whole point.

The rhetoric that will be used is tax fairness and limitations. Prop 108, passed in 1992, limited the state government from increasing net revenues without a supermajority vote, and 1010 will be framed as a companion to that popular measure. But 1010 is intended to consolidate complete control of funding for public schools in the state legislature, wherein the public schools can be quietly strangled to death while more and more tax revenues are diverted to private schools via individual and corporate tax credits. The Messianic Militarists are on the march and their first, and most frightening target, is our children’s minds.


At 6:25 PM, Blogger Tiny Montgomery said...

I have to disagree with the idea that charter schools are inherently evil. My 3rd grade daughter attends a charter school in MI and I couldn't be more pleased. She is getting specialized instruction in integrated visual learning, Spanish lessons and much more in a loving and gentle environment that encourages parent participation. This school appears to have started with a blank slate, considering what can be cut from traditional schools that cost money but add little to the core mission, e.g. lunch rooms, buses, traditional text books, and focus on what really matters, e.g. quality teachers, small class size and good communications.

I oppose any attempt to dismantle public education. I have my radar on high alert for any signs of political or religious indoctrination at my daughter's school. I favor trade unions and am the child of unionized, public teachers. However, I think many public schools are top heavy administratively and have lost the flexibility and sense of innovation needed to be effective. Perhaps there is something to be learned from successful charter schools.


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