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Posts Tagged ‘Arizona’

There are two important things to understand about K-12 education.

  1. There is national evidence and international evidence that spending more money on government schools does not produce good results.
  2. There is national evidence and international evidence that school choice produces better educational outcomes for families and society.

With today’s column, let’s add more evidence to the discussion.

Paul Gessing, the President of the Rio Grande Institute, wrote about New Mexico’s comparative educational performance in an article for National Review.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is known as “the Nation’s Report Card.” Sadly, the most recent “report card” represented failure for many states, not the least of which is my home state of New Mexico, which came in dead-last in all categories studied: fourth-grade and eighth-grade reading and math. Sadly, especially for New Mexico kids, the additional tax dollars being spent by the state’s education system have not moved the needle. If anything, the needle has moved in the wrong direction. Let’s compare New Mexico with lower-spending, reform-minded states, such as Arizona… Arizona neighbors New Mexico and has a similar demographic profile, including large Native American communities and a large Hispanic population. …We’ll use fourth-grade reading scores to make the comparison. …In 2005, New Mexico…was tied with Arizona, with a score of 207. By 2022, Arizona outperformed New Mexico 215 to 202.

Here are the numbers on comparative spending.

As you can see, Arizona is getting better results with frugality while New Mexico is getting worse results with profligacy.

…in FY 2022…Arizona spent $10,639…the…fifth-lowest-spending state…in the nation. …New Mexico, on the other hand, has increased education spending over the past 15 years or so. …Today, New Mexico ranks 19th among states at, considering its dismal educational record, an astonishing $15,338 per student.

But it’s not the frugality or profligacy that matters.

What seems to make the difference is whether the state has some form of school choice.

What happened? …Arizona has had a charter-school law since the mid 1990s and…is ranked as the second-best charter law in the nation… A system of tax credits to be used for private school choice has been in place and growing since 1997, and various specialty programs as well as narrowly targeted vouchers have also made Arizona a school-choice leader. That’s even before the program of universal education savings accounts approved in early 2022 fully takes effect.

Not only is Arizona out-performing New Mexico today, but the gap will probably grow.

Arizona is ranked #1 for school choice while New Mexico is buried in the middle of the pack at #26. And, as Paul noted, there’s a new statewide choice system that will give every family the ability to choose – and that means pressure on both private and government schools to produce better outcomes.

It will be interesting to see if Arizona (especially with its new choice law)…can keep or accelerate the momentum. Sadly, New Mexico is one poorly performing state that has not gotten serious… The children in my state have suffered despite a large increase in government education spending. Better results are possible without breaking the bank.

It’s unfortunate that New Mexico politicians are siding with teacher unions rather than families.

The evidence is very strong that school choice is a win-win for both taxpayers and students.

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Because politicians have built-in incentives to expand the size and scope of government, it is very rare to find elected officials who actually deliver more liberty.

Some of them will offer rhetoric, of course, but very few of them produce results.

That’s true nationally (with limited exceptions), and it’s true internationally (with limited exceptions).

And it’s almost certainly true at the state level.

Though I found an exception, and that is the topic of today’s column.

The outgoing governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, deserves praise from libertarians and small-government conservatives.

George Will is especially impressed with Ducey’s education reforms (and I agree).

Here are some excerpts from his Washington Post column.

With two trenchant sentences, the nation’s most successful governor of the 21st century defines the significance of his signature achievement: “Fifty years ago, politicians stood in the schoolhouse door and wouldn’t let minorities in. Today, union-backed politicians stand in the schoolhouse door and won’t let minorities out.” Hence Gov. Doug Ducey’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program, which was enacted this year to provide universal school choice in grades K-12. Every Arizona family is eligible to receive about $7,000 per student per year to pay for private school tuition, home schooling, tutoring, textbooks, online courses, programs for special-needs pupils and more. …ESA was ferociously opposed by the teachers’ unions, whose confidence in the quality of their schools can be gauged by their fear of competition. A union attempt to repeal ESA by referendum failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, partly because of a group (Decline to Sign) in which, Ducey said here last week, Black leaders were disproportionately active.

The Wall Street Journal is impressed with his tax reform (and I agree).

Arizonans who fled California for sunnier tax climes can breathe easier after a court ruling that has saved the day from a punitive 8% top state tax rate. A state judge…struck down Arizona’s Proposition 208, which placed a 3.5% surtax on incomes above $250,000, or $500,000 for joint filers. …Nixing the surtax means Arizona will soon have a flat tax of 2.5% on individual incomes, the lowest flat rate among states with an income tax. Gov. Doug Ducey slashed the previous 4.5% top rate in his 2022 budget… Tax competition has helped Arizona draw residents and businesses from neighbors like California, but the surtax would have sent the Grand Canyon State down a Golden State path. The tax’s $250,000 income threshold made it a particular burden on small businesses that pay taxes under the individual code. The episode is a reminder of the value of constitutional guardrails on state taxes and spending. Arizona voters in 1980 placed limits on school spending through a ballot initiative, preventing unrestrained budget bloat.

In a column for National Affairs, James Glassman mentions school choice and the flat tax, but also a few of his other accomplishments.

Since Arizona’s governor is limited to eight years in office, Ducey’s second term — which ends in January — will be his last. This makes it an opportune time to consider Ducey’s legacy… This past January, Ducey told the state legislature, “[l]et’s think big and find more ways to get kids into the school of their parents’ choice…” In July, he did just that. The Empowerment Scholarship Account program — the most expansive school-choice program in America — is a pure choice-based system that provides $6,500 per student to any family that prefers an alternative to public schools. …When he entered office, he announced that he wanted the state’s personal income tax rate, which stood at 4.5%, to be “as close to zero as possible.” He started by indexing brackets to inflation, then chipped away at the rate with dozens of specific reductions. Finally, last year, he signed into law the largest tax cut in the state’s history, which will achieve a flat tax of 2.5% within three years. On regulatory policy, …he axed or modified more than 3,000 regulations. …he signed the first universal occupational-licensing law in the nation: Arizona now automatically recognizes occupational licenses issued by any other state. He also eliminated initial licensing fees for applicants from families making less than 200% of the federal poverty level.

Ducey’s licensing reform is especially impressive. For all intents and purposes, he adopted an approach based on “mutual recognition,” and that makes it much easier for people in other states to shift economic activity to Arizona.

P.S. George Will’s column also notes that Ducey is not a fan of Republicans who want to surrender to bigger government.

During a September speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, Ducey deplored the fact that “a dangerous strain of big-government activism has taken hold” in the Republican Party, and “for liberty’s sake we need to fight it with every fiber in our beings”.

Amen. Whether it is called national conservatism, compassionate conservatismkinder-and-gentler conservatismcommon-good capitalismreform conservatism, or anything else, bigger government is bad news for ordinary citizens.

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I wrote earlier this week about school choice in Arizona, but this is such great news that it merits more attention. Indeed, I made it my “underreported story” in this week’s edition of the Square Circle.

What excites me is that school choice will lead to better educational outcomes.

We already have lots of evidence for this proposition, which our friends on the left falsely blame of “cream skimming.”

The good news about Arizona is that it will become impossible to make that silly argument when all children are eligible.

What’s really amazing is that opponents of school choice basically admit that private schools do a better job.

Consider this column for Salon by Kathryn Joyce. All the critics basically acknowledge that parents are going to abandon government schools now that they have a choice.

In practice, the law will now give parents who opt out of public schools a debit card for roughly $7,000 per child that can be used to pay for private school tuition, but also for much more: for religious schools, homeschool expenses, tutoring, online classes, education supplies and fees associated with “microschools,” in which small groups of parents pool resources to hire teachers. …Democratic politicians and public education advocates described the law as the potential “nail in the coffin” for public schools in Arizona…by steadily draining funds away from public education. …the money to cover children who leave public schools in coming years will be deducted from public school budgets. …”I think we’re witnessing the dismantling of public education in our state,” said Lewis.

I’m also excited because Arizona lawmakers didn’t try to dictate how the new system will work.

Why is that good news? Well, Max Eden of the American Enterprise Institute writes that Arizona’s program will encourage educational entrepreneurship.

…the Arizona Legislature passed the most expansive school choice initiative in America: the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account program. ESAs are the purest version of school choice. …Arizona’s ESA program would give about $6,500 directly to any family that decides a public school isn’t quite the right fit for their child. …the most significant consequence may come from a sector that essentially didn’t exist just a few years ago: “pods” or “microschools.” …If a teacher were to advertise and attract a dozen students, she stands to draw nearly $80,000… More importantly, her students will get far more specialized attention, likely suffer through far fewer distractions, and are less likely to fall behind or slip through the cracks. …The beautiful thing about Arizona’s ESA program is that it can eliminate any mismatch between what parents want for their child’s education and what they can get. Arizona now funds students, not systems. For many independent-minded parents, the idea of taking their child’s education directly into their own hands and partnering with other families to form small educational communities will be deeply attractive.

The bottom line is that there is not a system that is ideal for every kid. Some will thrive in a traditional school setting. Others will benefit from microschooling. And some will do best with homeschooling.

Let a thousand flowers bloom!

P.S. More than 10 years ago, I was very hopeful that states such as Colorado and Pennsylvania would lead the school choice revolution. But that was back when there were a significant number of Republican legislators who wanted to appease teacher unions. Fortunately, Republican voters have learned to punish politicians who put union bosses above children.

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The best referendum result of 2020 (indeed, the best policy development of the year) was when the people of Illinois voted to preserve their flat tax, thus delivering a crushing defeat to the Prairie State’s hypocritical governor, J.B. Pritzker.

The worst referendum result of 2020 was when the people of Arizona voted for a class-warfare tax scheme that boosted the state’s top tax rate from 4.5 percent to 8 percent.

In one fell swoop, Arizona became a high-tax state for investors, entrepreneurs, innovators, and business owners. That was a very dumb choice, especially since there are zero-income tax states in the region (Nevada, Texas, and Wyoming), as well as two flat-tax states (Utah and Colorado).

You can see Arizona’s problem in this map from the Tax Foundation. It’s great to be grey and good to be yellow, but bad to be orange (like Arizona), red, or maroon.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that lawmakers in have just approved a plan that will significantly lower tax rates and restore the state’s competitiveness.

The Wall Street Journal opined this morning about this positive development.

Arizona currently taxes income under a progressive rate structure, starting at 2.59% up to 4.5%. The ballot last November carried an initiative to add a 3.5% surtax on earnings above $250,000 for single filers. It narrowly passed, meaning the combined top rate was set to hit 8%, higher than all of Arizona’s neighbors except California. …Mr. Ducey’s budget will cut rates for all taxpayers. The Legislature can’t repeal the voter-approved surtax, so above the 2.5% flat rate, there will still be a second bracket on income over $250,000. But the budget also has a provision adjusting the flat tax downward for those Arizonans, so no one will pay a top rate above 4.5%. …the same as today. …No Arizonan will have to pay the threatened 8% rate, since the provisions forestalling it are immediate. …“Every Arizonan—no matter how much they make—wins with this legislation,” Mr. Ducey said. “It will protect small businesses from a devastating 77 percent tax increase…and it will help our state stay competitive so we can continue to attract good-paying jobs.” That’s worth celebrating.

A story from the Associated Press gave the development a much more negative spin.

After slashing $1.9 billion in income taxes mainly benefiting upper-income taxpayers and shielding them from higher taxes approved by voters in an initiative last year, the Republican-controlled House returned Friday and passed more legislation targeting Proposition 208. The House approved the creation of a new tax category for small business, trusts and estates that will eliminate even more of the money that the measure approved by voters in November was designed to raise for schools. The proposal passed despite unified opposition from minority Democrats. …The governor has expressed disdain for the voter-approved tax, saying it would hurt the state’s economy and vowing in March to see it gutted either though Legislation or the courts. …The budget-approved tax cuts set a flat 2.5% tax on all income levels that will be phased in over several years once revenue projections are met, with those subject to the new education tax paying 4.5% at most.

If nothing else, an amusing example of bias from AP.

I have two modest contributions to this discussion.

First, it’s not accurate to say that Arizona adopted a flat tax. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but a flat tax has to have only one rate. Arizona’s reform is praiseworthy, but it doesn’t fulfill that key equality principle.

Second, the main takeaway is not that lawmakers did something good. It’s more accurate to say that they protected the state from something bad.

I’ve updated this 2018 visual to show how the referendum would have pushed Arizona into Column 5, which is the worst category, but the reform keeps the state in column 3.

P.S. North Carolina made the biggest shift in the right direction in recent years, followed by Kentucky, while Kansas flirted with a big improvement and settled for a modest improvement. Meanwhile, Mississippi is thinking about making a huge positive jump.

P.P.S. Since Arizona voters made a bad choice and Arizona lawmakers made a wise choice, this is evidence for Prof. Garett Jones’ hypothesis that too much democracy is a bad thing.

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I’m glad I read Instapundit, because my day has been made brighter by the news that Arizona’s statists have given up on their money-grubbing speed camera program. Here’s a cheerful story which explains that widespread noncompliance was the key.
Dozens of photo-enforcement cameras on freeways throughout the state are coming down this week. A total of 76 cameras will cease operation on Thursday. …While the cameras have done a good job at snapping speeders, drivers have been ignoring the tickets. According to the Department of Public Safety, the cameras led to more than 700,000 tickets in the first year of operation. Many of those people, however, never paid the fines. …Any driver who ignored a photo-enforcement ticket was supposed to have been served. One problem was that process servers were inundated and simply couldn’t get to everybody. If a person was not served, his or her ticket became invalid after three months. The speeding tickets should have generated about $90 million in the first year of the program. About one-third of that was actually collected.
And here’s a website with further details, including about how one group of activists were vandalizing the revenue cameras. As the person who wrote the article says, “I say to the people of Arizona: Bravo! How very American of you.”
The State, as an institution, thrives on confrontation. The best antidote is peaceful non-compliance. Simply ignore the State, disengage, and the State is rendered impotent. Through the highway camera system, it was hoped that an additional burst of revenue would roll in. Instead, it became a massive drain on the state’s budget. Not only did it not bring in the hoped-for revenue, it didn’t even make enough money to pay for expense of installing and maintaining the cameras. The citizens simply ignored the tickets that arrived in the mail. The state of Arizona doesn’t have the money nor the resources to follow up on the unpaid tickets. To top that all off, a group of activists went around vandalizing the traffic cams ‘” icing on the cake. 
Allow me to conclude with my personal experiences. I’ve been nailed by speed (revenue) cameras twice. In both cases, the speed limits were set absurdly low. In one case, it was a 45-mph limit on a stretch of interstate highway. In the other case, a 25-mph limit on a six lane major artery. Sadly, I had to pay. But the real outrage is that there is no plausible explanation for those speed limits/camera placements other than to rip off drivers. I just hope someday I have jury duty and the case is about somebody arrested for vandalizing a camera.

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