The public school support organization Save Our Schools has launched another drive for a ballot measure to limit state dollars for private and parochial schools. While traditional district schools indeed deserve support, using a ballot vote to tie the hands of the Legislature rarely is a good idea.
Save Our Schools two years ago was able to win a ballot measure by a 2-1 vote to stop a move by legislators and the governor to further expand private school support. This time, however, more signatures will be needed to get the proposition on the ballot.
Arizona has been a leader in school choice, largely through public charter schools that receive state tuition. Residents also are able to get tax credits for funding tuition at private schools. The measure proposed would cap private school vouchers at 1% of the total number of students in the state, or about 11,000 today. The number receiving vouchers now is about 8,200, which is within the cap. However, the measure would keep that from growing much and also prohibit new categories of students eligible.
Giving parents a choice is a great thing and competition is generally good, but the challenge for the state always will be preventing degrading of traditional schools and ensuring that charter and private schools are doing a good job. However, some of that job is done through the choice process.
Arizona has a process for allowing voters to pass legislation or invalidate acts of the Legislature. This sounds like a good idea, but in practice it creates problems because it avoids the process of compromise and creates mandates that cannot be modified with changing needs. The best example of this is a voter-approved inflation adjustment for education that the Legislature failed to comply with in the aftermath of the Great Recession. While many people were out of work and the state budget was devastated, there was no way to keep up with a standard that was set in better times. Legislators are elected to make the tough decisions and pass a workable budget each year.
The best way to accomplish goals is for organizations to lobby the Legislature and seek to elect candidates who share their ideas. Voter mandates create too many problems.