by David Safier
The Goldwater Institute has an op-ed pushing Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) — aka Educational Savings Accounts, aka (according to me) Vouchers on Steroids — in Friday’s Arizona Republic and another in Saturday’s Sierra Vista Herald. It’s no wonder G.I. loves the vouchers-on-steroids program. The Institute created it and babied it through the Arizona legislature. And it’s no wonder G.I. is making a big ESA push right now. Republicans, under G.I.’s watchful eye, are pushing a bill to expand the program.
Whenever you read something from the Goldwater Institute — an op ed, one of its emails if you’re on the mailing list, a quote from one of its six-figure-salary spokespeople — remember: G.I. is a conservative lobbying organization, lawsuit mill and propaganda factory, not a think tank as it likes to bill itself. No think tank worthy of the name begins with the conclusion it wants to reach, then thinks back to figure out how to “prove” it. That’s G.I.’s M.O. That’s how G.I. works.
Both op-eds are penned by Jonathan Butcher, the Institute’s education point man. Do you know ALEC, the corporate funded conservative organization that brings business leaders and Republican legislators together in fancy hotels, creates conservative model bills on all kinds of issues, then sends the legislators home to pass them in their home states? Butcher is co-chair of ALEC’s Education Task Force. That’s pretty much tells you what you need to know about him.
Before Butcher sings the praises of ESAs in his op ed in the Sierra Vista Herald, he trashes Arizona’s public schools for spending too much money on administrative expenses. With your ESA, he says, you’ll pay for education, not overhead. The problem with that assertion is, Arizona is among the states spending the lowest percentage of its education funding on administration. Depending on who’s doing the counting, it’s somewhere between 4.5% and 9% of the ed budget, a few percentage points lower than the national average. And of course, private schools have administrative overhead too. Ask some private school what it spends on administration and see if you come up with a number that low.
Butcher says Arizona’s public schools spend 54% of their funding in the classroom, about 7% lower than the national average. He’s right about that, and there’s a good reason. The Republican legislature keeps cutting school funding, so every year schools have to make do with less. You can’t cut buses carrying kids to school. You can’t save much on building electricity, heat, cleaning and maintenance. But you sure can cut back on teachers and cram more kids in every classroom, as Arizona has done, and that cuts a whole lot from classroom funding. Not surprisingly, other states near the bottom of the nation in what they spend per student also spend a lower percentage in the classroom than most states that are more generous with their education dollars.
Anyone who followed my "Fool's Gold" posts on Blog for Arizona knows I love to go after the Goldwater Institute, and I expect I'll be posting about the Institute here as well. G.I. doesn't get nearly the negative attention it deserves. And expect more about ESAs soon. There's lots to learn about the costly and destructive vouchers-on-steroids program.