The private sector can always do a better job.

That is the belief of many Republicans in our state, which might help explain the number of private prisons we contract with. Currently, those prisons house about one-sixth of our inmate population.

It’s a nice business -- here in Arizona, we even guarantee the private prisons a certain number of prisoners, which, of course, ups their profits. In fact, according to a recent Arizona Republic article, one corporation, CCA, has an operating margin of about 30 percent, the difference between what we pay them and what it costs them.

Not bad.

But some believe that maybe, just maybe, the privately-run prisons don’t do a very good job.

State-mandated audits showed just that. Corrections Department studies from 2008 - 2010 reveal that it was cheaper to house inmates in state-run medium correction facilities than it was to put them up in private prisons.

So maybe, just maybe, at least with prisons here in Arizona, the private sector -- motivated by profit -- doesn’t do a better job.

But going forward, we won’t know that. Because two years ago, the Republican legislature passed a bill, signed into law by Jan Brewer, that “repealed a statutory requirement to compare costs.”

Voila! Problem solved.

Today, there’s another public sector that these same Republicans are attempting to privatize: public education.

The voucher system has been with us for several years, a plan that allows students to access tuition vouchers to attend private schools. Advertised as a way to help poorer students, instead it’s turned out to be mostly a subsidy for middle and upper class students’ private school costs. And made a nice living for the folks whose companies dole out the money for the vouchers.

In the last few years, public money for private schools has expanded through what’s called an Empowerment Scholarship Account. Again, taxpayer money is used by students to attend private schools, along with a variety of other uses the ESA’s allow.

Our private sector fans want even more, though. In this session alone, there are three bills that would continue the expansion of the ESA program, one even allowing individual school districts to create their own plans.

But just like with the private prisons, our private schools are unaccountable.

And that’s just the biggest of ironies with Republican support for private school vouchers.

These same Republicans tout themselves as fiscal conservatives, public-money penny pinchers, defenders of our tax money. They rightly want public agencies to be under the microscope when spending our hard-earned money.

But curiously, they don’t have that same fervor when sending millions of dollars off to private schools.

Of course, private schools can’t be forced to account for that money -- they’re private, after all. We have no clue, though, if we are getting a bang for our taxpayer bucks.

And our Republicans don’t seem to mind.

Nope, these schools get the money with no strings attached, not even academic accountability.

We don’t know how the kids getting the vouchers test in private schools; no state testing is required of them.

We don’t know where that money goes when it is sent to private schools; no auditing is required of them.

But the Republicans, enamored with privatizing, continue on their merry way.

Which begs the question: Are they that dumb, or do they simply want to dismantle public education in our state?

• Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.

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