McClellan: Libertarian march continues toward privatization of public institutions - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Opinion

McClellan: Libertarian march continues toward privatization of public institutions

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

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Posted: Saturday, February 1, 2014 1:45 pm | Updated: 11:30 am, Tue Apr 8, 2014.

So the libertarian march toward privatization of public institutions in Arizona continues.

Apparently not content with privatizing prisons — a popular trend among libertarian-leaning states — our Arizona libertarians who masquerade as conservative Republicans now want to privatize public education.

Based on the results we see from private prisons, we should be concerned with the move to privatize education.

Privately-owned prisons and prison functions like prisoner medical care have proven to be more expensive and less effective than that of the state-run prisons. So what did our libertarian legislators do? End the practice of auditing private prisons that compared them with the state-run ones. Problem solved.

Now, these same folks are focusing on public schools. Of course, this isn’t new. For several years we’ve had a voucher system in the state, vouchers, er, “scholarships,” that mostly have gone to the middle class and wealthier families to subsidize their kids’ private school educations. The reality is that very few poor kids — the population we were told would benefit from vouchers — actually benefit from them.

No matter. Because now our privatizers want to create a statewide voucher system, one similar to a county’s in Colorado.

A Gilbert school board member first raised the possibility; Staci Burk wants to adopt the Colorado plan for her district, claiming all kinds of benefits that are hard to measure since the Colorado county has yet to actually implement the plan.

In fact, Burk has said that she wants the board to consider it later this spring.

Just about the time a bill introduced in the Legislature might become a law. How convenient.

The bill is HB2256. Its sponsor includes East Valley legislators Warren Petersen, Kelli Townsend and Eddie Farnsworth from Gilbert, Steve Yarbrough and Tom Forese of Chandler, and Bob Worsley and Justin Olsen from Mesa.

The bill is essentially the Colorado plan that Ms. Burk wants for Gilbert, only it would apply statewide. And give Burk the law from which to convert Gilbert from a public school district to a quasi-private one.

Here’s what the law would do:

It would allow a board to vote to allow students to take three quarters of the per pupil state funding and use it to subsidize those students’ private schooling, with the school district keeping the remaining one-fourth.

Proponents like Burk call it a win-win, with parents being able to choose — if they can afford to — the private school they want their kids to attend. And schools get to keep money for kids who don’t even attend the school anymore.

Of course, there are some problems with this, not the least of which is accountability, given that existing voucher plans in Arizona have no private school accountability measures in place, either academically or financially. That is, we have no idea how voucher money is spent by private schools in Arizona, nor do we know how those kids who attend private schools do academically in comparison with their public school counterparts. HB2256 requires no accountability, either.

But we do know that the current variety of voucher plans in this state have done little for the poor, largely because poor parents don’t access the vouchers or don’t have the money to pay for the rest of the tuition private schools charge.

Those concerns don’t seem to pop up on proponents’ radar.

No surprise. These libertarians who’ve taken over state Republican parties across America have little use for government, always believing that the private sector can do better.

As we’ve seen with privatizing prisons, though, their enthusiasm might be more than a little misplaced.

• Mike McClellan is an East Valley resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.

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