Frank Scerbo and Nancy Darling Walbert: Parents can be trusted to choose best education for their kids

2014-04-29T00:00:00Z Frank Scerbo and Nancy Darling Walbert: Parents can be trusted to choose best education for their kidsBy Frank Scerbo
and Nancy Darling Walbert Special to the Arizona Daily Star
Arizona Daily Star

The Star editorial applauding the Arizona House vote to not expand the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (“Arizona House was right to reject voucher expansion,” April 20) fails to recognize a vital element in the educational equation – parents’ desire to do what is best for their children.

Children in Arizona deserve the very best education possible — whether in public, charter, home school or private schools — and support for expanding parental choice would not hinder performance but might actually help accomplish statewide excellence in education. Choice would lead to greater accountability, raise standards and lead to more effective schools for all children.

Remember, recently upheld by Arizona’s court as constitutional, the Empowerment Accounts (ESAs) are given not to any school but awarded directly to parents, giving them the flexibility to determine where to invest in their children’s education.

While the editorial suggests that students in our public school districts already have a choice because of open enrollment, why would it not be more advantageous for parents to be able to send their child to another of their neighborhood schools rather than a school across town, if it was a better fit for their child?

The Arizona Legislature has been generous in building its existing Empowerment Scholarship program, making it available to students who have been in foster care, children of active-duty military members, children with disabilities, and those who attend public schools rated D or F by the state. The proposed expansion of the ESA and tax-credit programs builds on what is available and would offer parents even more affordable choices, strengthening educational opportunities for all Arizona children.

The editorial’s argument that these private-school alternatives do not hold themselves accountable to standardized tests and other regulations is unfounded. For example, elementary children in the Diocese of Tucson Catholic schools annually take the Iowa E Standardized Test, a nationally normed exam that helps schools determine individual student achievement and growth from one year to the next. The test results are given to parents to help them assess their child’s progress and are used by the school to improve classroom instruction while fostering student growth. On average, Diocese of Tucson Catholic school students score at or above grade level in reading, language and math. This is in light of the diversity of children served by the diocese — from border schools to mission schools to South Tucson schools — and all schools in between the vast geographical diocesan borders.

Diocesan high school students routinely take standardized tests, including the PSAT and ACT Aspire. They are offered the ACT and SAT tests, which they submit with their college applications just like they would in a public school. They complete Advance Placement exams in the spring with every one of their AP peers in every school in the nation that offers Advanced Placement at the same time using the same tests.

Clearly, accountability is not exemplified in test scores alone. Diocesan schools are closely regulated through the rigorous accreditation protocol of the Western Catholic Education Association (WCEA). Catholic high schools are not only accredited by WCEA, but are also accredited through AdvanceEd, which focuses on school improvement in public and private schools nationwide. In addition, the one diocesan early childhood center, St. Thomas, is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Taxpayers should demand accountability, as the writer of the Star’s editorial states. The Legislature owes its constituents a closer look at what was intended by HB 2291. Lawmakers must continue to discuss how to best support excellence in education across the state. This includes helping to facilitate — rather than limit — parents’ ability to choose where to invest in their children’s education. Families in Arizona deserve nothing less.

Attorney Frank Scerbo and Nancy Darling Walbert are members of the Diocese of Tucson School Board.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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