In 1997, Arizona passed the nation’s first scholarship tax-credit law. This program gives individual taxpayers a dollar-for-dollar credit against state income taxes for donations to nonprofit groups giving private school scholarships. In 2007, this program raised $54 million and helped almost 25,000 students attend 359 private schools around the state. Arizona lawmakers created three new private choice programs in 2006, including vouchers for children with disabilities.
What has parental choice done for school quality in Arizona? Charter schools comprise an amazing nine of the top 10 publicly funded high schools in the greater Phoenix area. The lone non-charter school on the list is a magnet school, also a choice-based school.
Nevada, by comparison, has been hesitant to expand parental options. The five states surrounding Nevada (Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon and Utah) have 482, 710, 30, 81 and 60 charter schools respectively, collectively educating hundreds of thousands of students. With only 22 charter schools, Nevada brings up the rear as the school choice tortoise of the region.
On November 30, 2007, the Nevada Board of Education voted 8-0 to impose a moratorium on the approval of new charter schools. Board members told the press that the freeze was necessary because the state Education Department was “overwhelmed” by 11 charter applications. Arizona’s State Board for Charter Schools oversees 482 Arizona charter schools with a staff of eight.
If workload seems an inadequate excuse, lack of funding is equally perplexing.
The Nevada legislature has created a funding stream for the oversight of charter school in the amount of 2 percent of the per-student funding for any charter school approved.
Nevada policymakers must come to recognize the dire need for new, high-quality schools. Currently, even ultra-high quality charter school operators like KIPP are frozen out of opening schools in the state. If those top 10 schools from Phoenix wished to replicate their success in Nevada, they would be shut out. Nevada policymakers should loathe the status quo and fear the future unless they radically improve learning. Charter schools, which they should love, not loathe, can jump start that effort.