As an advocate for education reform for the past 35 years, a co-founder of a very successful charter school, a lifelong Republican, and the most recent past president of the Arizona State Board of Education, I have never been more embarrassed, outraged, disappointed, and angry to call myself a Republican. How on earth do the Republicans in the state Legislature who voted for the Empowerment Scholarship Account (voucher) bill, or our governor, who signed it, look in the mirror and in good faith, not understand what they have just done.
This is an outrageous attack against public education. This out-and-out transfer of state taxpayer money to private education through “school choice” is just what it seems, political rhetoric and very bad financial policy. It even blurs the separation of church and state line defined in the U.S. Constitution by our founders. Public education has been the equalizer for 150 years of economic growth and assimilation of immigrants into the culture that we enjoy today. This is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of students who do not have the resources to pay the additional thousands of dollars for the tuition these private schools will be charging above the state subsidy, and without the opportunity of a quality education provided in their local schools where due process and common goals of expectation drive the continued development of economic expansion for everyone, not just a privileged few.
Does the existing system have its troubles? Yes it does. Has the education reform movement of the past 25 years made a difference? Yes, but with miles left to go. Is money the only answer to solve the major issues in public education? No, but as a state you can starve the system to death. Without adequate funding for public education we have: 35 or more students in classrooms, teacher shortages resulting in 2,000 to 3,000 classrooms going without teachers, hundreds of teachers walking away from their existing classrooms (500 this past fall) because of the stress of the job, the politics of the institutions, and the low pay in one of the highest stress professions. This is our current situation, but instead of finding solutions we are letting more state tax money flow out of the existing system without accountability or transparency.
Are our classroom teachers getting the job done? Many are not! But their efforts are not the only reason: first generation immigrants, exaggerated federal rules and requirements, poverty, highly mobile student populations, uninvolved parents, teaching resources, a lack of commitment to children by their families and the state, and the list goes on! But in a state that is ranked at, or near, the bottom in every category of financial support for public education, how on earth can anyone, let alone those who are responsible for the stewardship of our children’s education and our tax dollars, support or even condone this disgraceful attack on our state’s economic future?
A great big thank you to my fellow Republicans at the Legislature who held ground and used common sense by not giving in to the pressure of those who have crafted and moved this bill to signature. All Republicans that share this view use your vote in next summer’s Republican primary to replace anyone who supported this transfer of economic wealth from our public school system to the private schools of the wealthy.
— Greg Miller is president and superintendent of Challenge Charter School and a former president of the state Board of Education.