The privatization of prisons, healthcare and basic utilities have leveraged the future of America for the short-term profits of a handful of individuals. The battle over private vs. public is now being fought in the classroom, and the message from our educators caught in the fray has been made abundantly clear:
Please, leave education out of it.
A Sordid History
Arizona’s history with the public funding of privately-owned schools began in 1994, when the state legislature approved a law permitting charter schools in the state. The following year, 67 of the more than 400 charter schools application were approved, with more than 13,000 students enrolled in charters for the 1996–1997 school year.
A cap of 25 additional charter schools per year was put in place to help stabilize growth, but that cap was removed in 2000. The reason for opening the floodgates can partially be attributed to the increase in federal grants made available for charter schools with the expansion of the Charter Schools Expansion Act, authored by former California congressman and current Republican candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction Frank Riggs.
Rigged From the Start
The year after the CSEA was signed into law, Riggs left Congress to work on the board of the Charter Schools Development Corporation, where he worked his way up to a salary of $300,000 to oversee the funding of startup and construction costs for new charter schools across the country. But while Riggs has worked to further the work of privatized education, he has done little to provide it with oversight. This profit-over-pupil approach has resulted in the following failures in Arizona as reported by the Washington Post):
- Charter schools do not report how many teachers they employ, or whether or not their teachers are certified.
- Nearly half underreported administrative expenditures in 2017. Great Hearts Academies was discovered to be hiding millions in an attempt to make their per-pupil administrative spending look more efficient.
- Falsified spending reports to the Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction have been uncovered since 2009 without consequence.
- Fraudulent use of public funds for private charters resulting in multiple FBI investigations.
- More than $6 million in unreported and untaxed expenses made by the American Leadership Academy.
(Type of) Experience Matters
Despite awarding himself with the nickname, “Landslide,” Riggs narrowly won the Republican nomination for Superintendent by less than 300 votes. His biggest battle within his own party is his status as a Never-Trumper. When asked about his feelings toward Trump by the Phoenix New Times, Riggs responded: “Let’s put it this way: I like his Supreme Court nominees.”
The lack of enthusiasm for Riggs may also be attributed to the fact that for more than two decades, Arizonans have turned almost exclusively to white, male politicians to lead their schools. The failures of these elected officials have resulted in educator-led walkouts that shut down the majority of schools in the state. When looking for change, many voters see Riggs’ history as a politician — six years in the House of Representatives, one failed Senate campaign and one failed gubernatorial campaign — as more of a burden than a boon.
Contrast Riggs’ uphill battle of his own making with the grassroots momentum Democratic nominee Kathy Hoffman, and the choice for Arizona’s educational leadership could not be more clear. A dedicated, innovative and inspirational educator, Hoffman’s experience in education is the polar opposite of Riggs. While Riggs made backdoor deals with lobbyists and oversaw schools afar from his board seats, Hoffman specialized her training, working not only as a classroom teacher, but one-on-one with students, parents and fellow educators as a speech pathologist. While one candidate ruled from afar, the latter opted to focus on those who needed help the most.
It’s Time to Publicly Decry Privatizing Schools
The people have made their voices clear: education is not for profit. Our lawmakers have ignored us, and attempted to paint educators as the villians in the battle for our public schools. Electing another seasoned lawmaker who has profited from the very system he now wants to reign in would undercut the momentum educators have built through walkouts, protests and nationwide strikes, and snuff out the final flame of hope Arizonans have of education reform.
Please, free-market capitalism, leave education alone.