Below is an exchange I recently had with a parent who took exception to a
blurb of mine in the Arizona Republic about public education. Her comments
(noted with blue vertical lines) are almost identical to scores of emails I've
received over the years in response to my editorials and research on public
education. It's not that she and others disagree with me that is so
discouraging. Nor is it discouraging because I believe that my views
are correct and the only legitimate views. They're certainly not. What is so
discouraging is their group-think and the superficiality of their
As backdrop, my blurb was against a bond override for the local school
district. I said that most of the proponents seemed to be wealthy parents who
could afford to pay the cost of their children's education without mooching off
of childless taxpayers and parents who homeschool their children or send them to
I've x'd out the person's name below.
In a message dated 10/24/2009 11:29:33 AM US Mountain Standard Time,
Dear Mr. Cantoni,
I am writting regarding your comments in the
Arizona Repulic on Saturday, October 24th (today). Just a couple of quick
questions, were you educated in a public school and do you realize that not all
of Scottsdale is "wealthy"?
Dear Ms. xxxx:
I trust that you will give me the same courtesy I'm giving you and that
you will respond to my comments below.
To answer your questions: Yes, I realize that not all of Scottsdale is
wealthy, but in my daily walking and cycling through much of the city, I've
noticed that most of the signs supporting the override can be found in front of
No, I did not attend public schools. I went to Catholic primary and
secondary schools and then six years of Catholic college. My son also attended
parochial schools. The same with my working-class parents, both of whom
attended parochial grade schools and high schools that would be considered
college prep schools today on par with Brophy Prep. Their poor immigrant
parents (my grandparents) could afford Catholic tuition at the time on a
waiter's pay and a barkeep's pay because taxes were a third of today's
confiscatory levels, due in part to public school taxes being much lower.
Higher taxes are one of the reasons that so few working-class and poor
parents can now afford both private tuition and public school taxes. It's also
part of the reason why Catholic schools have had to close in inner cities, thus
leaving blacks and Hispanics in those cities trapped in lousy public schools,
where the dropout rate is nearly 50% and where crime and drugs are
The original goal of compulsory public education was universal education. With those dropout rates, and with a national graduation rate of only 70%,
compulsory public ed has been a failure, as measured by the original goal. I
believe that the reason for this is that a quality public education has become
an entitlement for mostly middle- and upper-class whites in suburbia.
The latest book I've read on education supports that belief: The
Street Stops Here. I encourage you to read it. It's about a Catholic high
school in the Bronx. The school is the last hope for the students' parents, who
know that if their kids fail to make the grade at the school, the'll end up at a
public school and have bleak futures.
I'm very versed in the history and facts of public education, and at one
time was active in public education reform, until I realized that public
education is a political system first, and an education system, second. As
such, it will always operate as a political system; that is, inefficiently,
irrationally, and beholden to special interests, especially teacher
A case in point: Nationally, productivity has fallen by over 70% in public
schools over the last 40 years, as measured by stagnant test scores and
skyrocketing per-pupil spending in inflation-adjusted dollars.
A related note: Years ago for one of my Arizona Republic columns, I
researched how the overhead compared at the Scottsdale Unified School District
to the Phoenix Diocese school system. This is from memory, so the numbers might
not be totally accurate, but SUSD had something like one administrator at HQ for
every 400 students. The Diocese, on the other hand, had one for every 4,000
students. Other researchers have found similar disparities between public and
parochial systems in other cities.
The K-3 overrides are essential for our children,
especially those in lower income areas, if they are to get a head start in
As you can tell by my preceding comments, I disagree that more public ed
spending will help lower-income children.
What would help is to end the government education monopoly and make public
schools compete with private ones, as in Europe, where most of the leading
countries in education don't discriminate against private schools in funding. Yeah, I know the constitutional problems with that here and the history of
the anti-Catholic Blaine amendments, but there are no legitimate constitutional
prohibitions against giving at least education tax refunds or credits to parents
who send their kids to private schools.
Besides, the current system of funding public education violates parents'
freedom of religion. It does this indirectly, by making parents who want their
kids taught in religious schools to pay twice for education, once in public
school taxes and once in private tuition. As I've said, most can't afford to
pay twice, so the system is a de facto infringement of freedom of religion. To
draw an analogy, it would be akin to the government forcing parents to
contribute huge sums of money to a Church of the United States and then saying
that they are free to also support the church of their choice.
Can you imagine a class of 35 1st graders and 1 teacher? How
can this one teacher possibly devote any individual attention to each child
making sure they learn how to read and
I can't only imagine it, but I've experienced it firsthand. That was the
class size of my parents' classes, my classes, and my son's classes. There are
even larger classes in countries that far surpass the U.S. in education. Granted, discipline and family problems have permeated American schools, due, I
belive, to misguided and wrongheaded government policies for the last 45
years. It's a case of hope trumping experience to expect the same government
that caused classroom problems and learning difficulties to fix the
Have you ever visited
Tavan Elementary in South
No. Have you ever visted a Catholic elementary school in a poor
These children need
all the help they can get and this is such a critical year. If these children
do not learn these essential tools how will they ever
A better question: Why aren't they learning? I posit that a lack of money
isn't the answer and that more money isn't a silver bullet.
Our children are our
future and Arizona ranks 49th in the nation as far as educational funding. This
is a pretty sobering
The ranking is a canard that I deconstructed years ago. But if it were
true, it would turn your argument on its head. It would do so because Arizona
ranks much higher than 49th in education results, when the results are adjusted
for race and income, thus showing a disconnect between spending and
In addition, if this override fails, in addition to
affecting our children, it will affect property values and businesses in
Property taxes that go to public education are a double-edged sword. The
edge that you overlook is that such funding has led to segregated neighborhoods,
with the wealthiest taxpayers buying the largest homes and getting the better
schools. Funding equalization hasn't solved this problem and won't solve
The override is not just for the wealthy, it
is for all of the children in Scottsdale. For you to suggest that tax payers
should not help fund education is crazy. Should taxpayers not fund roads, not
everyone who is eligible has a drivers license or owns a car. Should taxpayers
not fund help fund hospitals, not everyone uses them or needs them. Why would
you take a good education away from a child, these kids will be running our
country some day.
I'm not crazy. Nor do I speak in platitudes. What I said in my Ariz.
Republic blurb was that parents who can afford to pay the cost of
their children's education should do so out of their own pockets and that
everyone should subsidize the education of poor children. I also said that
well-off parents are mooching off childless citizens and parents who homeschool
their children or send them to private schools.
In fact, roads are close to my principle of a fee-based system based on
usage. Much of their cost is paid through gas taxes and license fees. I
believe all of the cost should be paid that way.
You began your email with personal questions for me. Now let me ask you a
personal question: Do you have children in public school?
If the answer is yes, you won't like what I'm going to say next -- namely,
that my wife and I have contributed much, much, much more than you to public
education. Over our adult lives we will pay approximately $190,000 in public
education taxes and not receive one cent in direct benefits in return. If you
have two children in public schools, and if you pay about the same as us in
school taxes, you will pay $190,000 over your adult life; but instead of
receiving zero in direct benefits, you will receive $240,000 in direct
benefits. Or to look at it another way, you will have taken money from my wife
and me that could have gone to poor children.
Frankly, I'd feel a lot better about public education if all of our
$190,000 went to poor children and not to parents who are not poor. After all,
supporting the poor is a precept of the Catholic Church. That's why our son
went on missions to Mexico where he worked during spring breaks at a Catholic
orphanage. It's also why he and his parents adopted an orphan financially at
the orphanage until he finished high school. No offense, but if you're not
poor, I don't feel good about supporting you.
Thank you for reading this,
You're welcome. I look forward to your response to my comments. In your
response, please address my points and don't speak in platitudes. Thank
Craig J. Cantoni