OPINION


10-26-2009 

Menckens Ghost
Dear Mr. Cantoni, I am writting regarding your comments in the Arizona Repulic on Saturday, October 24th (today).  
 
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 counter-arguments.   
 
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 private schools.
 
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, cindyxxx@cox.net writes:
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 expensive homes.
 
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 rampant.  
 
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 unions.
 
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 life. 
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 write. 
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 problems.     
Have you ever visited Tavan Elementary in South Scottsdale?
No.  Have you ever visted a Catholic elementary school in a poor neighborhood?
  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 succeed?
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 statistic.
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 results.
 
In addition, if this override fails, in addition to affecting our children, it will affect property values and businesses in Scottsdale.
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 it.
  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,
 
Cindy xxxx
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 you.
 
Regards,
Craig J. Cantoni