Saturday, March 19, 2005

Michael: Graf Chimes in on Education

The erstwhile Speaker of the Arizona House and Kolbe primary opponent, Randy Graf, popped up in the Arizona Daily Star's Reader Letters section on Saturday. He opined:

In Wednesday's "More Letters," the writer is upset with public education in Arizona and says we have "some of the poorest/low-scoring public schools in the United States." Yet the writer is critical of vouchers, which would allow parents an opportuninty to get out of these "low-scoring public schools."

I believe the writer's assumptions on our educational performance can be questioned. Some reports rank us in the middle of the national pack as to student performance.

But if the writer is so sure of the poor educational system we have here in Arizona, why would she condemn these students to a substandard education by insisting that parents and students not have more options to upgrade their education?

Well, I didn't expect Graf to confront this issue honestly.

The reason schools are "low scoring" is because the legislature consistently funds public school programs at such a low level, one of the lowest per capita in the nation, in fact. Many of these "low scoring" schools are in poorer and rural areas and are created by a persistent lack of resources that Arizona's primary school funding system doesn't redress - nor would voucher schools change that disparity.

These 'opportunities' to escape the public school system are more apparent than actual. As voucher schools are not governed by state rules for enrollment, they needen't accept any students they don't want. Nor are there any limits on how much they can charge for tuition. Thus for many, if not most, private schools accepting vouchers, the State's voucher would be only a down-payment toward the actual cost of tuition, which most people couldn't afford. Vouchers are a way for the wealthy to withdraw their tax money from the public school system and to apply those funds toward defraying the cost of their own exclusive and sectarian private schools where the hoi poloi aren't welcome.

I trust that Graf is refering to the Goldwater Institute's study of education when he cites "some reports" ranking us at the median in student performance. I think most are aware of the dangers when liars and statistics are put together.

We already have options beyond the public school system in the form of charter schools. Though I am ambivalent about charters, their promises have been brighter than their performances, I don't see how this experiment in the private provision of educational services fails to give parents hundreds of options. Perhaps it is the fact that they must meet State educational guidelines, enroll on a non-discriminatory basis, and cannot be sectarian that disqualifies them as sufficient choices in Graf's eyes?

As to who is condemning our students to a substandard education, I think it intelligent to look to those who hold the purse strings. Specifically, the GOP dominated legislature which has consistently fought for cutting taxes for the wealthy and special interests (to the tune of 300 million this year alone) instead of providing adequately for our kids' educations and our State's future. A legislature led until recently, I might add, by Mr. Graf.


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