Educational policy analysis archives

Educational policy analysis archives

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Educational policy analysis archives
Arizona State University
University of South Florida
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Educational policy analysis archives.
n Vol. 8, no. 37 (August 01, 2000).
Tempe, Ariz. :
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Arizona education tax credit and hidden considerations of justice : why we ought to fight poverty, not taxes / Michele S. Moses.
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1 of 18 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 8 Number 37August 1, 2000ISSN 1068-2341 A peer-reviewed scholarly electronic journal Editor: Gene V Glass, College of Education Arizona State University Copyright 2000, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES. Permission is hereby granted to copy any article if EPAA is credited and copies are not sold. Articles appearing in EPAA are abstracted in the Current Index to Journals in Education by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation and are permanently archived in Resources in Education The Arizona Education Tax Credit and Hidden Considerations of Justice: Why We Ought to Fight Poverty, Not Taxes Michele S. Moses Arizona State UniversityAbstract The current debate over market-based ideas for educ ational reform is examined, focusing specifically on the recent movem ent toward education tax credits. Viewing the Arizona educatio n tax credit law as a voucher plan in sheep's clothing, I argue that the concept of justice underlying the law is a crucial issue largely missi ng from the school choice debate. I question the libertarian conceptio n of justice assumed by voucher and tax credit advocates, and argue instead that a contemporary liberal democratic conception of justice ought to u ndergird attempts at school reform. A call for educators and policymaker s to concentrate energies on efforts to help needy students rather t han on efforts to channel tax dollars toward selfinterested ends co ncludes the article. This article is one of four on the Arizona Tax Cred it Law:


2 of 18 Welner: Taxing the Establishment Clause Wilson: Effects on Funding Equity Rud: Moral Considerations Why will conservative politicians and polic ymakers put money and effort behind voucher plans – a reform idea wholly lacking eviden tiary support – yet they will make symbolic efforts at best to break the cycle of pove rty, which is perhaps the most serious problem facing the United States in general and pub lic schools in particular? Worse yet, these same persons claim to support vouchers primar ily because they will benefit the neediest students. Presidential candidate George W. Bush, for one, touts vouchers (or "scholarships" as he prefers to call them) as the g reat hope for children and schools. In the state of Arizona, voucher initiatives have repe atedly failed to gain legislative support (Garn, 1999), so the Republicandominated legislat ure passed a bill to establish a statewide education tax credit for private school tuitio n, in essence a voucher in sheep's clothing. I focus here on an analysis of Arizona's education tax credit as a recent and popular example of market-based reform. School tax credits are seen as different from vouchers, and thus are becoming state law and polic y with little public notice or debate. As the political climate surrounding educat ion policy becomes increasingly tolerant of market-based educational changes like voucher an d education tax credit plans, a fundamental question is largely missing from the de bate: What conception of justice undergirds these plans? And, intricately connected to this, what implications do these market notions have for social justice for poor stu dents and students of color? I will attempt to answer these crucial questions. I shall argue that even though proponents of education tax credits and other such school choice plans claim to be most concerned with improving education for disadvantaged students in fact, poor students and students of color will ultimately be further disadvantaged b y such schemes. In so doing, I will examine Arizona's education tax credit law by placi ng it within the larger debate over voucher plans, relying often on the Milwaukee, Wisc onsin, voucher program as an example. I shall then use this examination of the i ssues surrounding education tax credits as a backdrop in assessing what I take to b e opposing concepts of justice assumed by the proponents and opponents of education tax cr edits.The Arizona Education Tax Credit For four years running, the Arizona state l egislature voted against a school voucher plan. After this string of defeats, in 1997, Republ ican legislators formulated an alternative school choice bill, this time in the gu ise of education tax credits (Laitsch, 1998). The bill was passed into law, (Note 1) allow ing Arizona state income tax payers to claim two different types of dollar-for-dollar t ax credit. First is a private school tuition tax credit of up to $500 that can be donated to a S chool Tuition Organization (STO), which then awards tuition scholarships to students who wish to attend private or religiously affiliated schools. Such tax credits cl osely resemble privately funded voucher programs, within which private organizations establ ish so-called scholarship funds for students in private schools (Witte, 2000). These or ganizations are usually religiously affiliated and have varying selection criteria. For example, in Indianapolis, low-income students could receive up to $800 toward private sc hool tuition, which would cover roughly half of their tuition. Of course, families would have to cover the rest (Witte, 2000). The second Arizona tax credit is a $200 cred it that can be donated to public


3 of 18schools for use only on extra-curricular activity f ees (e.g., band uniforms or sports equipment). (Note 2) Soon after the tax credit law was enacted, the Arizona Education Association and others brought suit challenging its constitutionali ty. In Kotterman v. Killian the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the e ducation tax credit law on January 26, 1999. The United States Supreme Court refused t o hear the appeal. Thus the high court sent the message that the tax credit law coul d stand as constitutional in the state of Arizona. However, by not hearing the case, they dec lined to issue a ruling with direct national consequences on the question of education tax credits. By extension, the high court declined as well to rule on the question of v ouchers, as an education tax credit is a form of voucher, though not widely recognized as su ch. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court also declined to hear a case specifically regarding Milwaukee's voucher program (Pardini, 1999). The Justices seem to be reserving judgment for the time being. Conflicting Ideas of Vouchers Although the debate over education tax cred its is just heating up, the debate over vouchers has been boiling over since the voucher id ea was first introduced by Milton Friedman in the 1950s (Friedman, 1955). There are t wo major strands in the debate over vouchers, one concerning freedom and the other conc erning equity. Of course, the issues within each are complex and overlap significantly. The first strand centers on the broad issue of freedom of choice. Supporters of vouchers argue that parents need more freedom of choice when it comes to their children's schooling, and they believe that vouchers will provide the avenue for those choices. Parents will not be forced to support failing public schools with their tax dollars, espe cially if they would prefer to send their children to private schools. Once parents threaten flight to betterachieving private schools, the argument goes, the public schools will be forced to improve in order to be able to compete. Voucher foes disagree, arguing ins tead real freedom of choice will exist only for higher-income parents. They believe that t ax money is better invested in public schools that are available to all children. The iss ue is less about free choice than it is about self-interest. After all, parents are at leas t nominally free to enroll their children in private schools whether or not vouchers or tax cred its exist. Some wealthy families that choose private schools simply do not want their tax dollars supporting public schools if their children are not attending them. Some voucher proponents calling for greater school choice contend that private school vouchers will allow families greater control over their children's schooling, particularly where it concerns religion and morality. With education tax credits and many voucher plans, stude nts can attend religiously affiliated schools, thus enabling them to learn according to t heir parents' values (e.g., creationism instead of evolution). Opponents declare this an un constitutional breach of the separation of church and state. Public monies, they maintain, must not go to support private, religious education. The second strand of argument over vouchers and education tax credits focuses on the issue of who really benefits from these initiat ives. Defenders of vouchers often try to take the high ground by arguing that voucher and ta x credit plans primarily benefit the least advantaged students and families. With a vouc her or tax credit, poor families, they say, will no longer be held captive in bad public s chools. They will be able to send their children to private schools for a better education. According to voucher opponents, the least advantaged students are not only not the prim ary beneficiaries of voucher plans, they are the ones who are most likely to be harmed. Most voucher plans, and the Arizona education tax credit, do not restrict private schoo l tuition aid to needy students.


4 of 18Therefore, there exists a risk that higher-income f amilies will take most advantage of the voucher opportunities, leaving the neediest student s in underfunded public schools. The vouchers and tax credits thus function as subsidies for middleand upper-income families. In what follows, I will delve more deeply i nto these two strands of argument, paying close attention to Arizona's education tax c redit and Milwaukee's voucher plan.Strand One: Vouchers and Tax Credits as Freedom of Choice According to John Chubb and Terry Moe (1990 ), a free market in schooling will respond to and rectify what they see as public scho ol failure (at least as defined by academic achievement as measured by standardized te st scores), stemming from a system of direct democratic control. Democratic con trol by means of elected school boards, they contend, is responsible for the creati on of an unwieldy bureaucracy of school governance that erodes student achievement, parent satisfaction, and educational innovation. Under market-based reform, education wo uld instead be treated as a consumer good. Individual schools would perform wel l or risk students and parents taking their "business" elsewhere. Families would h ave greater freedom to have their children attend better private schools as well as p arochial schools more in line with their moral values. In addition, these new public schools unfettered from democratic structures, would rise to the higher levels of acad emic achievement claimed for private schools (Chubb & Moe, 1990). Chubb and Moe's (1990) arguments exemplify those of school choice proponents in general. The concern for greater freedom of choice can be separated into three main issues. These are: 1) unfair taxation, i.e., it is unfair to force parents to give their tax money to public schools when they would rather send their children to private or parochial schools; 2) private school performance, i .e., private schools promise higher academic achievement; and 3) moral values, i.e., re ligious schools better support conservative moral values.Unfair Taxation In Kotterman v. Killian the Arizona Supreme Court looked favorably on edu cation tax credits for private and religious schools becau se such schools were said to serve the public interest by relieving parents' tax burdens. Critics of vouchers and education tax credits fear the loss of tax dollars for public sch ools. This fear appears to be warranted. A study of the Milwaukee voucher program has shown that the Milwaukee Public Schools lost over $22 million dollars that they wou ld have received from the state were there no charter schools or vouchers redeemed at pr ivate schools (Miner, 1998/1999). Tax credit advocates, however, do not see tax credi t money as belonging to the state, since, because the money is donated directly to STO s or schools by the taxpayers, it is never actually in the state's possession. This was the reasoning used by the majority of the Kotterman v. Killian justices, who overlooked two things. First, if sta te income tax money is withheld from a person's paycheck and that person makes a $500 donation to an STO, then when she or he receives the tax credit the state is in effect returning the $500 – money in the state's possession – to the tax payer. Second, tax credit donations to STOs or public schools are not simple philanthropic donations of individuals' own money; by taking advantage of the tax credit, indiv iduals are choosing where to place their tax dollars. Without such a choice, that mone y would go to the state. In the same vein, if voucher plans do not r educe public school funds, then why


5 of 18would Governors Jeb Bush and George W. Bush both us e the threat of federal vouchers to punish schools whose test scores do not improve? George W. Bush has proposed taking money from federal Title I programs targeted on the neediest students and schools to finance vouchers for students in low-performing schools. His plan stipulates that after three years without test score improvement, Title I funding would be taken away from the school and given to the state to set up voucher programs for students (Herman, 1999). It is doubtful, however, that such a plan wo uld withstand the inevitable court challenge. The nature of taxation is connected with ci tizens contributing to the public good. If public tax dollars are used to subsidize some stude nts' private school attendance, then tax monies are contributing to some citizens' priva te good. Foes of education tax credits have legitimate worries about increased inequality and segregation brought on by such school choice programs (see Cobb & Glass, 1999). In Dan Goldhaber's (1999) optimistic view, school choice efforts could break the ties be tween low-income neighborhoods and poor schools, which could result in fewer white and higher-income families fleeing to suburban school districts. Of course, changing scho ol funding schemes could have this effect as well and would focus on improving public schools rather than escaping them. Consider the state of Florida's recent scho ol voucher law, which holds that public school students in schools that received failing gr ades on their state school report cards for two consecutive years could receive vouchers th at use tax dollars to fund private school tuition. In March, 2000, it was declared unc onstitutional by a state judge. The judge ruled that the voucher law violated the state constitutional mandate to provide students with a free education in public schools (H allifax, 2000). (Note 3) Still, the voucher proposals keep coming. N ew Mexico's Republican Governor Gary Johnson has proposed the most comprehensive U. S. voucher program yet (Janofsky, 2000). Underlying Johnson's proposal is the assumption that private schools are better than public ones; many politicians play into this assumption by proposing voucher and tax credit plans to help families escap e public schools. Perhaps it helps avoid the more important discussion about what ough t to be done to improve those public schools that are not serving children well.Private School Performance Those in favor of tax credits and vouchers contend that private school students by and large have better academic achievement than pub lic school students. As such, more students should be provided with the opportunity to attend private schools, and school choice plans should help them afford the costs. Thi s argument is compelling, because as it stands, only middleincome and high-income fami lies can afford private school education for their children. Tuition tax credits a nd vouchers, then, can make the difference for some lowerincome families. The pro blem is that this logic assumes that private schools do indeed provide students with a b etter education than do public schools. Goldhaber (1999) points out that on averag e, private schools tend to produce higher standardized test scores, and high school gr aduation and college attendance rates. However, and this is the key point, Goldhaber also mentions that this finding does not take account of the differences between private sch ool selection criteria and public school open admissions (Goldhaber, 1999). In fact, the findings on student achievement do not support the contention that private schools do a better job educating students (Goldhaber, 1999; Witte, 2000). Consider that when John Witte (2000) compared the reading and math achievement of Milwaukee Choice st udents and Milwaukee public school students, he found no statistically signific ant differences. This finding led him to


6 of 18conclude that "the battle and politics over voucher s may have more to do with money and with the allocation of power than with educatio n" (Witte, 2000, p. 157). In addition to perceptions of higher achiev ement, private schools are also perceived as having more involved and active parents. Similar ly, it is often the most involved parents who take advantage of school choice opportu nities (Witte, 2000). As such, these involved parents leave the public schools rather th an using their energies to help improve them. According to Witte One couldÂ…reasonably argueÂ…that if these students a nd families remained in their prior [public] schools, they could exercis e considerable influence in attempting to improve those schools. [Choice] Paren ts were educated, angry, involved, and had high expectations for thei r children. If engaged and given the opportunity, they could push the public s ystem rather than leave it (Witte, 2000, p. 73). It defies common sense that in order to fos ter improvement in the public schools, we should shift more good students, active parents, and financial resources to private schools. It seems that this would render public sch ools less likely to improve. In a review of the empirical literature regarding school choice, Goldhaber found that competition does seem likely to spur public schools to change (Goldhaber, 1999). But why promote public school reform in ways that risk making them worse? Why act as if schools and students in poor neighborhoods deserved to be punished for having to deal with myriad issues that high-income schools do not face? Why not instead foster action by involved parents within the public system?Moral Values Overall, approximately 85% of all private s chool students attend religious schools (Witte, 2000). Although it is reasonable for famili es to choose to send their children to schools that uphold their religious tradition and m oral values, it is not right for them to do so using public tax dollars. To do so threatens the separation of church and state. In upholding the constitutionality of Arizona's tuitio n tax credit, the majority opinion in Kotterman v. Killian stated that before the tax credit initiative, lowincome parents may have been coerced into accepting public educati on. These citizens have had few choices and little control over the nature and quality of their children's schooling because they have been unable to afford a private education that may be more compatible with their ow n values and beliefs. Arizona's tax credit achieves a higher degree of pa rity by making private schools more accessible and providing alternatives to public education. (Note 4) Three points can be raised regarding this p ortion of the Kotterman court's opinion. First, the Justices appear to place considerable va lue on an education that is in harmony with families' moral values and beliefs. They are p resumably referring to the generally conservative moral values espoused in religious sch ools. If tax credits are to be valued because they help achieve greater economic parity, then why should moral values play a part in their defense? Second, the Justices assume that the inability to afford private school has caused low-income parents to have "few choices and little control" over their children's education. Poverty and isolation are mor e likely to have caused these families'


7 of 18educational difficulties, and simply placing childr en in private schools is not likely to solve the problems associated with poverty. Third, the Justices ignore the fact that the tax credit also makes private school more affordabl e for students already enrolled as well as other middleand high-income students. Sub sidizing the attendance of economically privileged students at private schools will not help Arizona achieve the higher degree of parity the Justices seek. Thus far, it has been the Catholic Tuition Organization of Phoenix and the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization, both of whic h support schools affiliated with their respective religions, that have benefited dis proportionately from the Arizona tuition tax credit (Schnaiberg, 1999; Wilson, 2000). As of January, 2000, these two STOs had received over $1,375,000 of the total $1,800,000 do nated to 15 of Arizona's STOs (Center for Market-Based Education and the Goldwate r Institute, 2000). Apart from reporting to the Arizona Department of Revenue on t he amount of their scholarship money that was allocated, there is no accountabilit y for how the STO scholarships are disbursed. While donors cannot designate a donation to benefit their own children directly, there is nothing stopping them from, say, earmarking their donation for a friend's child. The STO has complete freedom to det ermine how money is allocated among applicants and the amount of aid each will re ceive (Center for Market-Based Education and the Goldwater Institute, 2000). In ad dition, as Justice Feldman points out in the dissenting opinion in Kotterman v. Killian "contrary to the majority's assertion, the [tax credit] statute promotes support of religi ous schools. It does this without prohibiting use for sectarian instruction, thereby allowing direct state subsidy of religious instruction and observance." (Note 5) In essence, Arizona tax dollars are funding the teaching of specific religious and mora l values. We arrive at what Kenneth Howe (1997) ident ified as a case of the slippery slope. Once voucher and tax credit plans are introduced, e ven the most restrictive ones, they tend to slip toward subsidy of religious schools an d toward benefiting primarily higher-income students as well. The Milwaukee vouch er experiment provides an example of how the slippery slope can turn a succes sful limited voucher program into a program to subsidize religious school attendance. B eginning in 1991, only low-income students from Milwaukee public schools were eligibl e to receive approximately $5,100 to attend nonsectarian private schools. By 1995, th e program had expanded to include religious schools, and by 1999, 69% of the particip ating choice schools were affiliated with a religion (Witte, 2000). Once the Milwaukee C hoice program expanded, it changed in significant ways. By the 1998-1999 schoo l year, only 23% of "choice students" came from the Milwaukee Public Schools; t he rest had already been enrolled in private schools; 55% of these were already priva te school students or new private school students, and 22% were continuing choice stu dents. Perhaps the best evidence of the slippery slope phenomenon is that the mayor of Milwaukee has proposed removing the program's income restriction, which will likely result in private school subsidies for higher-income families (Witte, 2000). Or consider the Cleveland, Ohio program. It began with many fewer restrictions than Milwaukee's, and as a result, saw discouraging results. The voucher schools were mostly parochial, the vouchers were not specificall y targeted toward needy students, and it subsequently became a program primarily benefiti ng students who were already attending private schools (Witte, 2000). Despite th e evidence that voucher and tax credit plans will inevitably encounter the slippery slope phenomenon where they end up benefiting mostly high-income students and private and religious schools, school choice supporters continue to insist that these programs a re designed to help the neediest students and schools.


8 of 18 It would be difficult to dispute the notion that many public schools are in need of improvement; studies by Jonathan Kozol (1992) and J ean Anyon (1997) provide compelling stories of the plight of urban public sc hools. In that regard, voucher proponents join with liberals in decrying the sorry state of some public schools. However, school choice advocates ignore evidence th at the democratically controlled U.S. public school system is doing a remarkable job More people than ever are guaranteed a free education, and the U.S. high scho ol graduation rate is at its highest point in history (Berliner & Biddle, 1995). Marketdriven reform supporters stretch facts when they paint the public school system as an unre deemable villain. Yes, it is crucial for our neediest students that something be done to improve the school infrastructure, teacher quality, and achievement in the poorest sch ools. But market-based ideas such as vouchers and tax credits hold little, if any hope f or beginning that long and complicated process. Vouchers and tax credits are far more like ly too do further harm to poor students and students of color.Strand Two: Vouchers and Tax Credits as Benefit for the Least Advantaged Proponents of school vouchers and education tax credits argue that these programs serve primarily to combat the inequality faced by l ow-income students. Opponents claim the opposite, viz., that vouchers and tax credits w ill serve to perpetuate the already unjust funding disparities between public schools i n high-income and low-income areas and consequently, hinder progress toward social jus tice goals. Andrew Coulson (1996) looked historically a t market-inspired reforms and maintains that such fears of injustice are unfounde d. He complains that opponents assume that too many families would not actively fi nd out about the options for choice. In making the case for market-driven change, he wri tes that "Members of the minority groups assumed to be incompetent or uninterested in their children's education are foremost in defending their ability and prerogative to choose" (Coulson, 1996, p. 3). This is a misleading characterization of an importa nt objection to market-based choice schemes. In implying that choice opponents discount the intelligence and power of low-income parents and parents of color, Coulson di smisses the very real danger that a large portion of low-income families are harmed by voucher and tax-credit plans. In initial data analyses of donations in the first yea r of the Arizona education tax credit, Glen Wilson (2000) found that the education tax cre dits exacerbate the already disastrous inequities in Arizona public school fund ing. With the Arizona education tax credit, only taxpayers can benefit from this so-called expanded choice. Families that do not ear n enough to pay taxes – those whose children are arguably the poorest and most in need of expanded options – will not be able to contribute either to their children's publi c school or to an STO. Thus, the likelihood of their pursuing the benefits of these tax credits seems remote. Why then, as Coulson (1996) notes, do some low-income families s eem to support vouchers plans such as these? Voucher advocates often point to the fact that the Milwaukee voucher program was initially strongly supported by urban A frican American parents (Witte, 2000). The abstract promise of vouchers and tax cre dit monies to pay for a better school for one's children is indeed hard for many families to resist. The problem comes when the voucher plans are put into action. Wisconsin st ate Representative Polly Williams, an outspoken early architect of Milwaukee's voucher pr ogram, learned this first-hand. Within five years of the outset of the Milwaukee pr ogram, Representative Williams and most other African American leaders in Wisconsin ha d rescinded their support of the


9 of 18program. (Note 6) In Cleveland, no African American leaders support the voucher plan (Witte, 2000). They were disillusioned once the pro mise that the voucher plan held for urban students in general and students of color in particular failed to materialize. Worse, the voucher program was expanding and was benefitin g principally higherincome families (Witte, 2000). Representative Williams poi nted out that "'This is what you call hijacking the program. There are people in the coal ition who never intended to help low-income children.'" (Quoted in Witte, 2000, p. 1 70). According to Timothy McDonald, Chair of the national African American Mi nisters Leadership Council, "'Inner city parents whose schools are not performi ng well are desperate for solutions and the Religious Right is exploiting that frustrat ion. This is really an attempt to divide the African American community against itself'" (Re thinking Schools, 1999, p. 2). Voucher and tax credit plans often use the term "sc holarship" rather than voucher to skew perceptions of the program. For example, the C leveland program is called the Ohio Pilot Project Scholarship Program, and Florida's vo uchers are termed opportunity scholarships by Governor Jeb Bush. Why not just use the language of vouchers? If there is nothing to be ashamed of or opposed to regarding voucher plans, then why are such circumlocutions employed? Vouchers and education tax credits serve to perpetuate status quo class arrangements within schools. As Howe (1997) observe d, we've now taken our first step on a slippery slope and will inevitably slide to the bottom, where privatized schooling will be t here to greet us. The only remedy for this problem is to demand significant re strictions, to keep equality of educational opportunity at the forefron t, and to insist on continued efforts to improve existing public school s (Howe, 1997, p. 123). Perhaps an even better remedy would be not to allow voucher and tax credit plans in the first place. Perhaps then we could go about the work of improving schooling for poor children without the distraction and detractio n of marketbased choice schemes. One is drawn to Witte's conclusion: "the mo st plausible explanation for the continuity and expansion of vouchers has little to do with aiding poor, minority students, and much more to do with distributing subsidies to those who now attend private schools, or would do so in the future" (Witte, 2000 p. 158). Data on the first year of the Arizona tuition tax credit show that poor students and students of color indeed are not receiving the majority of the financial benefit (Wi lson, 2000). In Presidential Candidate George W. Bush's plan for education, parents could place up to $5,000 per year in tax-free education savings accounts to be used for K-12 private school expenses. The current limit on such accounts is $500 per year for college fees (Johnson, 2000). In the spirit of education tax credits, this type of tax-f ree saving serves to benefit wealthier families. If a family puts $5,000 into a tax-free s avings account to be used for private school tuition, and they are in, say, a 25% tax bra cket, then they are gaining $1,250 tax dollars. The corollary effect of this, of course, i s that the tax dollars available to fund public schools are significantly reduced. In additi on, poor families would have a much harder time contributing to such a savings account, and so could not take advantage of either the tax break or the additional funds to put toward private school tuition, if they so desired. It is difficult to believe that school cho ice proponents such as Bush still attempt to have the public believe that they are really jus t trying to help our neediest students. Perhaps we should not be surprised, given the prese nce of similar attempts in our nation's history. It was also argued that the doctr ine of "separate, but equal" would be in the best interest of people of color. Even the U.S. Supreme Court supported that position


10 of 18in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). In addition to the harm that vouchers and t ax credits do to low-income students is the harm that they may do to students with disabili ties. By virtue of the fact that private schools need not make any adjustments for students with disabilities, private schools are much less likely to serve this group of students th an are public schools, who are required by law to do so. Consider that under Milwaukee's Ch oice plan, private schools do not have to accept students with disabilities; these st udents can, in essence, be officially excluded (Witte, 2000). The issue of students with disabilities provides further evidence that voucher and tax credit plans are not truly con cerned with aiding the least advantaged students. Both Witte (2000) and Goldhaber (1999) foun d that families with more formal education are more likely to take advantage of oppo rtunities for school choice. Because he looked at all types of choice program and not ju st a restricted one like Milwaukee's, Goldhaber also found that higher-income parents are more likely to use charter schools, vouchers, and the like when they were available. Th ese outcomes could be predicted, especially when we look at data from the Milwaukee voucher program showing that information about the program reached families most often through personal contacts and word-of-mouth (Witte, 2000). If the same is fou nd to be true in Arizona, then it is much less likely that poor students and schools in poor neighborhoods will learn about and benefit from the tax credit in large numbers. I t is no wonder then that Goldhaber concludes that "unfettered school choice would like ly lead to increased racial and economic segregation (Goldhaber, 1999, p. 23). For a public school donation to fall under Arizona's tax credit rules, it has to be earmarked for activities for which there are extracurricular fees, say, for example, a Spanish class trip to Spain. The public school tax credit thus raises two major problems. First, the extra-curricular activities for which th ese donations can be used are rather unlikely to significantly improve students' academi c experience. While there are certainly benefits to be had from having better ban d uniforms, or traveling to Spain, perhaps money could be better spent on teacher sala ries, for instance, so that lower-income schools can at least try to compete wi th higher-income schools for the best prepared teachers. Second, there is no guarantee th at anyone will volunteer to donate anything to the neediest public schools. However, w e can imagine that school administrators would try to take advantage of the t ax credits and mobilize parents and members of their community to make their donations. But, again, which schools would be more likely to have the time and energy to devot e to such a campaign? Higher-income schools, to be sure. I am not saying that educators and families in low-income schools do not care or do not value educ ation, as has been suggested in other research (Coulson, 1996; Goldhaber, 1999). (N ote 7) What I am saying is that if parents are struggling to provide food and shelter for their children, and if educators are struggling to keep kids safe and in school, it seem s unlikely that these parents and educators will manage also to wage a community camp aign for tax credit donations. Who cares about new band uniforms if the school has no band? In addition, the tax credit money that wealthy families contribute to pu blic school extracurricular activities does not go into the state's general tax fund, leav ing the state less money to fund social programs that could help poor students and their fa milies. Opposing Conceptions of Justice How can it be that voucher and education ta x credit programs are held up simultaneously as 1) needed help for both the disad vantaged and the unsatisfied, and 2)


11 of 18yet another way that the wealthy and powerful can h elp themselves to the detriment of our neediest students? The problem is that the oppo sing camps are, in many ways, entering into the debate holding vastly different a ssumptions about freedom and, most importantly, about justice. Whether one supports vo uchers and education tax credits depends largely on which set of philosophical assum ptions one holds. One set of assumptions —those that voucher proponents subscrib e to —stems from a libertarian conception of justice. The other set—those that vou cher opponents subscribe to—stems from a contemporary liberal democratic conception o f justice. In the next section, I explore these opposing ideas, settling on the liber al democratic conception as most genuinely concerned with important considerations o f justice for the least advantaged students.Libertarians Versus Contemporary Liberal Democrats Libertarian theories of justice are primari ly concerned with issues of freedom and individual choice, specifically as exemplified in t he free market. As long as the distribution of goods stems from free exchanges, an y inequalities in the distribution that result are just (Howe, 1997). Therefore, justice is served when society functions as freely as possible, there is little state involvement in t he affairs of individuals, and persons are free to choose the good. Hence, school choice plans like education tax credits fit perfectly with these notions of justice. By allowin g citizens to determine for themselves where (at least part) of their tax money will go, a nd allowing them to have greater choice as to where to educate their children, according to their own belief system, tuition tax credits serve libertarian notions of justice well. It simply does not matter to libertarians that this is unfair for families and schools in low -income neighborhoods. The education tax credit is therefore seen by its proponents as o ne more device for empowering parental choice. Defenders of school choice view it as being fair and just, arguing that the system of financing public education is coerciv e and discriminatory. According to libertarian theory, the tax credit is available equ ally to all; low-income parents have the same chance as anyone else to use it. If they do no t take advantage of the opportunity, it is their own choice. The entire notion of market-ba sed educational change thus assumes a libertarian conception of justice. While there is some merit to the virtues of freedom and of choice, libertarians run into significant problems when contemporary liberal s (myself included) question them on the aims of education in a democracy and on the actual outcomes of education tax credits for the neediest students. First, tax credi ts, which add up to public financial support for private and parochial schools, are detr imental to the major aim of education to prepare all students for democratic participatio n. Second, while Arizona tax credit supporters claim it will indeed result in expanded choices for lowincome students, the actual outcomes of the first year of the tax credit program show that this is not at all the case (Wilson, 2000). Advocates of education tax cre dits are operating under an impoverished notion of social justice for students, especially low-income students. They are asking the wrong questions, and trying to fix t he wrong problems. Instead of combating the woes of low-income public schools hea d-on, they are attempting to shift the emphasis from reform and social change to an em phasis on individual freedom (Cookson, 1992). But this notion of freedom is empt y, as it is disconnected from both the sociopolitical context and a concern for others resulting in a type of politics of disconnected freedom. Within these politics, parent s and students are merely self-interested consumers who would use the liberta rian free market rationale to justify fleeing public schools, or, at least, finance summe r cheerleading camp. Yet public


12 of 18schools are the very institutions that serve to sus tain a notion of education that aims to prepare all students for meaningful and critical pa rticipation in our democracy. Contemporary liberal theories would advocate instea d a sense of reciprocity, within which persons do not act only in their own self-int erest, but instead aim to act fairly and justly by trying to understand intimately the persp ectives and standpoints of others (Gutmann & Thompson, 1996; Rawls, 1971). According to John Rawls, the leading liberal democratic theorist of justice, the only wa y that any inequalities, such as the ones exacerbated by education tax credits, can be tolera ted is if they serve to make all students somehow better off (Rawls, 1971). Educatio n tax credits simply do not fit into this stipulation. Nonetheless, it seems that, prima facie school choice proposals like education tax credits are in keeping with the tradition of democr atic education (Gutmann, 1987). Parents have more freedom of choice, public schools feel compelled to improve in order to compete with private and parochial schools, and poor families have an increased opportunity to place their children in the best sch ools. However, as Howe (1997) points out, school choice schemes are actually incompatibl e with equal educational opportunity and democracy. Libertarian advocates for education tax credits tout this reform without taking into account the social and political contex t underlying the inequalities they contend tax credits will help minimize. In actualit y, market-based educational reforms allow us to avoid rather than deal with debates ove r the nature of schooling in a democracy (Gutmann, 1987). David Berliner and Bruce Biddle (1995) remind us that while the free market generally guarantees efficien cy, it does not guarantee equality (Berliner & Biddle, 1995). This is certainly true, and libertarians are aware of this point. Nevertheless, the guiding philosophy behind marketbased schemes does not hold the concepts of equality and justice paramount. As long as everyone has nominal freedom of choice, justice will be done. Libertarian theories, then, allow market-dr iven reform proponents to idealize the notion of freedom, conveniently forgetting that, as contemporary liberals argue, the state cannot be neutral about civil rights (Moses, 2000). That is to say, left to their own devices, there is little guarantee that private and parochial schools will pay any attention whatsoever to issues of equality and social justice What is more, history shows that private and parochial schools will not pay any such attention, and may in some instances be designed so that they may exclude certain studen ts. Chubb and Moe (1990) claim that it is good that private schools are separated from democratic political processes. Contemporary liberals disagree, responding that tha t is precisely the problem if we truly care about social justice. Perhaps libertarians do not. They should.Concluding Thoughts Consider the following two student cases. Jonathan is a young boy who is having behavioral di fficulties in his public elementary school in the inner city of Newark, New Jersey. In recent weeks, Jonathan has switched from living with his father t o living with his mother. When he passes his father on the street, his father refu ses to even say hello to him. Since Jonathan began living with his mother, his father i gnores him. (Note 8) 1. Harold is an elementary schooler in Los Angeles who se mother works an alternating shift in the local hospital's laundry. She is the family's sole source of financial support. His father left when he was five and is now in jail. Harold has for years been labeled a distracted problem child. His mother usually does not 2.


13 of 18have time to attend parent-teacher conferences to d iscuss Harold's situation. (Note 9) In the first case, Jonathan is just one exa mple of the children in his elementary school who Jean Anyon (1997) describes as having "h ard lives" (Anyon, 1997, p. xiii). A teacher in the school describes the myriad troubl es faced by the children she teaches: "Derrick's father died of AIDS last week;Â…One girl' s father stole her money for drugsÂ…One boy had a puffy eye because his mother go t drunk after she got laid off and beat up the kids while they were sleeping" (Anyon, 1997, p. xiii). In the second case, Harold's mother is having great difficulty being he r family's sole provider. A medical problem is plaguing her, she has little time to spe nd with Harold, and she seems resigned to a life of poverty. Think again of the debates over education t ax credits. Is it likely that Harold's mother or many of the parents of students in Jonath an's school will be able to donate their $200 tax credit to the school, or $500 to a S chool Tuition Organization? Will they then help their child apply first for a private sch ool tuition scholarship, and then for admission to a private school, and last obtain tran sportation to and from a private school that is not in their neighborhood? Would a private school even choose to admit students like Jonathan and Harold? If the parents were able to donate their $200 tax credit to the public school, for what would the school use the mo ney? There is no school band or science laboratory or athletic team in need of new equipment. The things the students need most are not fee-driven extra-curricular activ ities; they need functional bathrooms, bilingual teacher aides, and up-todate classroom computers (Kozol, 1991). Of course, in no way do I mean to imply that low-income studen ts do not deserve to participate in extra-curricular activities, only that the things t hat Arizona's $200 tax credit will pay for are not the highest priority for school improvement Perhaps in some schools in higher-income neighborhoods that is not the case. H owever, tax credit proponents claim that they will help revitalize poor public schools that serve needy students. I do not see how, for it does not even seem that the tax credits were formulated with such students in mind. It would be best, and most just, to focus s chool reform efforts on improving public schooling, especially for the neediest students, an d celebrating what is good about public schools, rather than demonizing public education in an effort to serve special interests, as proponents of school choice tend to do. In the i nterests of justice, it is liberal democratic rather than libertarian market principle s that should guide public schooling. It is public, not private, education that is a prim ary good in the United States, for at its best, it serves the critical social purpose of educ ating all students for meaningful democratic participation (Gutmann, 1987). In the en d, education tax credits and other school choice schemes will not help to reform publi c schools that do not successfully serve that social purpose or diminish social inequa lities. Rather, they will result in injustice by exacerbating the very inequalities tha t they claim to erase. Education tax credit schemes cannot change the fact that school funding is largely based on property taxes. Family incomes and therefo re neighborhood and housing situations determine children's school possibilitie s and too often a school's quality as well. This is a serious fundamental problem. School s in poor areas ought to receive more state dollars than their wealthy counterparts. Perh aps restricted school choice plans (like the original Milwaukee voucher program) may help so me students. That is perhaps acceptable. But realistically, the case cannot be m ade that market-based reforms will save children from poverty or even save them from u nfair school funding arrangements (Traub, 2000).


14 of 18 As Berliner and Biddle (1995) document, ove rall public schools in the U.S. are doing a good job (Berliner & Biddle, 1995). Similar ly, in his journey across the U.S. to visit public schools in places such as New York Cit y; Chicago, Illinois; Hattiesburg, Mississippi; and Tucson, Arizona, Mike Rose learned that public school "classrooms offer a collective public space in which America is being created" (Rose, 1996, p. 10). This, despite rampant poverty and racism. Imagine t he possibilities if we were to focus our collective societal energy and power on eradica ting poverty rather than on things like selfinterested tax credit schemes.NotesA.R.S. § 43-1089 (1997). 1. Apparently, these donations can also be deducted fr om one's federal taxes as well in essence providing a double benefit. See paragrap h 148 of the dissent of Kotterman v. Killian, 972 P.2d 606 (1999). 2. As of this writing, the state was in the process of appealing the decision to the 1st District Court of Appeals (Hallifax, 2000). 3. See paragraph 22 of the majority opinion of Kotterm an v. Killian. 4. See paragraph 93 of the dissent of Kotterman v. Kil lian. 5. In fact, only one African American leader, Dr. Howa rd Fuller, continues to support Milwaukee's voucher plan. (For the complete story, see Chapters 7 and 8 of Witte, 2000). 6. Goldhaber (1999) suggests that better-targeted publ icity can help low-income families find out about school choice opportunities because they "may have less knowledge about the workings of the educational sys tem and the value of education" (Goldhaber, 1999, p. 23). Better-targete d publicity about options cannot hurt, but there is no need to perpetuate the idea that low-income people do not know the value of education. 7. This story comes from a case described in Jean Anyo n's book Ghetto Schooling (Anyon, 1997). 8. Harold's story is recounted in Mike Rose's book Lives on the Boundary (Rose, 1990). 9.ReferencesAnyon, J. (1997). Ghetto schooling: A political economy of urban educ ational reform. New York: Teachers College Press.Berliner, D. C., & Biddle, B. J. (1995). The manufactured crisis: Myths, fraud, and the attack on America's public schools. White Plains, NY: Longman. Center for Market-Based Education and the Goldwater Institute. (2000, January 26). EXTRA-CREDIT newsletter. [Online.] Available at:, J. E., & Moe, T. M. (1990). Politics, markets, and America's schools. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution.Cobb, C. D. & Glass, G. V. (1999). Ethnic segregati on in Arizona's charter schools. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 7 (1). [Online] Available:


15 of 18 [August 1, 2000]Cookson, P. W. (Ed.). (1992). The choice controvers y. Newbury Park, CA: Corwin Press.Coulson, A. (1996). Markets versus monopolies in ed ucation: The historical evidence. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 4 (9). [Online] Available: [August 1, 2000]Friedman, M. (1955). The role of government in educ ation. In R. A. Solow (Ed.), Economics and the public interest (pp. 123-144). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Garn, G. A. (1999). Solving the policy implementati on problem: The case of Arizona charter schools. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 7 (26). [Online] Available: [August 1, 2000 ] Goldhaber, D. D. (1999). School choice: An examinat ion of the empirical evidence on achievement, parental decision making, and equity. Educational Researcher, 28 (9), 16-25.Gutmann, A. (1987). Democratic education. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Gutmann, A., & Thompson, D. (1996). Democracy and disagreement: Why moral conflict cannot be avoided in politics, and what sh ould be done about it. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press.Hallifax, J. (2000, March 23). Voucher law thrown o ut, [Online article]. The Associated Press/ Available: ews/florida000314.html [2000, March 23].Herman, K. (1999, September 3). Bush pushes plan fo r failing schools. Denver Rocky Mountain News, p. 45A. Howe, K. R. (1997). Understanding equal educational opportunity: Social justice, democracy, and schooling. New York: Teachers College Press. Janofsky, M. (2000, February 6). N.M. considers mos t ambitious voucher program. The Arizona Republic, p. A23. Johnson, G. (2000, March 24, 2000). Gore, Bush make visits to schools, [Online]. Associated Press. Available: [2000, March 24]. Kozol, J. (1991). Savage inequalities: Children in America's schools. New York: Harper.Laitsch, D. (1998, October 1998). School choice and privatization efforts in the states: A legislative survey, [Online]. AACTE. Available: [2000 February 16].


16 of 18 Miner, B. (1998/1999). $22 million siphoned from MP S to pay for private schools. Rethinking Schools, 13 (2), 3. Moses, M. S. (2000). The relationship between selfdetermination, the social context of choice, and authenticity. Paper presented at the Ph ilosophy of Education Society Annual Meeting, Toronto, Canada.Pardini, P. (1999). Chruch/state complexities. Rethinking Schools, 14 (2). Rawls, J. (1971). A theory of justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Rethinking Schools. (1999, Spring). False choices: Vouchers, public sc hools, and our children's future, pp. 1-4.Rose, M. (1990). Lives on the boundary: A moving account of the stru ggles and achievements of America's educational underclass. New York: Penguin Books. Rose, M. (1996). Possible lives: The promise of public education in America. New York: Penguin Books.Schnaiberg, L. (1999, April 14). As tax day nears, Arizona prepares to tally credits. Education Week, p. 17. Traub, J. (2000, January 16). Schools are not the a nswer. The New York Times Magazine, 52-57,68, 81, 90-91. Wilson, G. Y. (2000). Effects on Funding Equity of the Arizona Tax Credit Law. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 8 (37). [Online]. Available: [August 1, 2000 ] Witte, J. F. (2000). The market approach to education: An analysis of Am erica's first voucher program. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.About the AuthorMichele S. MosesCollege of EducationArizona State University(480) 965-4673 Email: Michele S. Moses is Assistant Professor in the Divi sion of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies at Arizona State University. She rec eived her Ph.D. from the University of Colorado at Boulder, specializing in the philoso phy of education and education policy analysis. Her research interests include issues of educational equity and social justice and the politics of education policies concerned wi th multiculturalism.Copyright 2000 by the Education Policy Analysis Archives


17 of 18The World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is General questions about appropriateness of topics o r particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, or reach him at College of Education, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 8 5287-0211. (602-965-9644). The Commentary Editor is Casey D. C obb: .EPAA Editorial Board Michael W. Apple University of Wisconsin Greg Camilli Rutgers University John Covaleskie Northern Michigan University Alan Davis University of Colorado, Denver Sherman Dorn University of South Florida Mark E. Fetler California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Richard Garlikov Thomas F. Green Syracuse University Alison I. Griffith York University Arlen Gullickson Western Michigan University Ernest R. House University of Colorado Aimee Howley Ohio University Craig B. Howley Appalachia Educational Laboratory William Hunter University of Calgary Daniel Kalls Ume University Benjamin Levin University of Manitoba Thomas Mauhs-Pugh Green Mountain College Dewayne Matthews Western Interstate Commission for HigherEducation William McInerney Purdue University Mary McKeown-Moak MGT of America (Austin, TX) Les McLean University of Toronto Susan Bobbitt Nolen University of Washington Anne L. Pemberton Hugh G. Petrie SUNY Buffalo Richard C. Richardson New York University Anthony G. Rud Jr. Purdue University Dennis Sayers Ann Leavenworth Centerfor Accelerated Learning Jay D. Scribner University of Texas at Austin Michael Scriven Robert E. Stake University of Illinois—UC Robert Stonehill U.S. Department of Education David D. Williams Brigham Young UniversityEPAA Spanish Language Editorial Board


18 of 18 Associate Editor for Spanish Language Roberto Rodrguez Gmez Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico Adrin Acosta (Mxico) Universidad de J. Flix Angulo Rasco (Spain) Universidad de Teresa Bracho (Mxico) Centro de Investigacin y DocenciaEconmica-CIDEbracho Alejandro Canales (Mxico) Universidad Nacional Autnoma Ursula Casanova (U.S.A.) Arizona State Jos Contreras Domingo Universitat de Barcelona Erwin Epstein (U.S.A.) Loyola University of Josu Gonzlez (U.S.A.) Arizona State Rollin Kent (Mxico)Departamento de InvestigacinEducativa-DIE/ Mara Beatriz Luce (Brazil)Universidad Federal de Rio Grande do Sul-UFRGSlucemb@orion.ufrgs.brJavier Mendoza Rojas (Mxico)Universidad Nacional Autnoma deMxicojaviermr@servidor.unam.mxMarcela Mollis (Argentina)Universidad de Buenos Humberto Muoz Garca (Mxico) Universidad Nacional Autnoma deMxicohumberto@servidor.unam.mxAngel Ignacio Prez Gmez (Spain)Universidad de Daniel Schugurensky (Argentina-Canad)OISE/UT, Simon Schwartzman (Brazil)Fundao Instituto Brasileiro e Geografiae Estatstica Jurjo Torres Santom (Spain)Universidad de A Carlos Alberto Torres (U.S.A.)University of California, Los


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