Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

February 10, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

School Choice


  • Arizona School Tuition Organization Association President Harry Miller talks about the state's tuition tax programs, some of which are facing legal challenges.
Category: Education

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Hello, and welcome to "Horizon." I’m Ted Simons. A setback today for a Maricopa County in court ruling regarding Luke Air Force Base encroachment. A county superior court judge granted a preliminary injunction that requires Maricopa County to comply with a law that protects the base from residential encroachment. The county maintained that the law deprived residents of property rights without compensation. Budget cuts by state lawmakers have started to hit muscle at Arizona State University. ASU today announced the elimination of nearly 50 academic programs. The university also eliminated all but one college each at the Polytechnic east and West campuses. In addition, enrollment has been capped with incoming freshmen having until March 1 to get into ASU. Several programs that were cut at the east and west campuses have been moved to the downtown campus. University officials warned that further cuts next year could mean the elimination of the east and west campuses. Also more layoffs, increased tuition and further caps on student enrollment. Speaking of budget cuts, the reenactment of the Battle of Picacho Pass fell victim to the cuts of state parks departments. The annual reenactment of the battle has been going on for 20 years at Picacho State Park and costs $3,500. It drew crowds up to of 3,000 people. And, at a time when many governments and businesses are pulling back on spending, a major announcement today by Intel of a huge investment in Arizona. The chip manufacturer announced it is going to invest $7 billion in plants in Arizona, Oregon and New Mexico to upgrade production for a new class of chips. The Arizona investment will make two Chandler plants called fabs into one mega-fab, a $3 billion investment. The move will not create new jobs in Arizona, save for about 1,500 construction jobs. It will maintain the current level of jobs and allow the company to keep ahead of the curve on new chip development. Governor Jan Brewer helped the company announce the move today at a press conference where she expressed her excitement about the plan. Brewer has complained about inheriting a deficit from the previous administration. She was asked if she inherited something positive with the Intel announcement.

Jan Brewer:
Is it a good thing I inherited? I don't know if it was on the boiler plate before I arrived on the ninth floor. I certainly receive it with open arms. I think it probably just didn't happen overnight. I don't know if the previous administration was involved in it whatsoever. I think Intel being the corporate community, I think the corporate business that they are would look at the dynamics of who is driving the state, the legislature and who is governing and they have chosen to do that. So, it's a good thing. Whether I inherited it or I didn't inherit it.

Josh Walden:
We’ve previously announced based on the economic conditions that we’ll probably be letting go approximately 300 to 400 employees. What this investment allows us to do is continue to maintain those high-tech, high-paying jobs out into the future. During the retrofit of the facilities and the conversion of fab-22 to be joined with fab-32, we'll essentially employ 1,000 to 1,500 highly-skilled contract workers. That's typical of what we do across all of our facilities when we retrofit them. In total with this announcement, there'll be approximately 7,000 contractors across the different states that’ll be hired.

Boyd Dunn:
Intel is staying in the state of Arizona, staying in the city of chandler. Competition is intense throughout the world in terms of these very important jobs so we're very pleased Intel has decided to remain in our facilities, to better those facilities, and even become more of a player in the high-tech industry and to continue doing what they do best. That's the good news. They're certainly here and investing during a downturn. Those jobs will be critical for our local economy.

Josh Walden:
Here, for Intel at least, we always need to continue to invest in the future so when that the economy turns around, we'll be able to supply the chips and devices to our customers when will need them.

Ted Simons:
A huge rally at the state capitol today. It was a celebration of school choice, including the Arizona tuition tax credit program that helps students attend private schools. More on that in a moment, but first, David Majure takes us to the rally.

Steve Yarbrough:
What you have here today is our school choice day. It's a rally to basically say "thank you" to the people of Arizona and to the legislators and to the governor for supporting school choice.

David Majure:
Nearly 3,000 school choice t-shirts were printed for the occasion. Organizers were expecting about that many kids to show up. Students from private and religious schools, many of whom received grants and scholarship from school tuition organizations. Under Arizona law, taxpayers can get a dollar for dollar tax credit when they donate to one of these STOs. The credit is capped at $500 for individuals and $1,000 for couples filing jointly. State representative Steve Yarbrough is Executive Director of the Arizona Christian school tuition organization.

Steve Yarbrough:
It is budget-positive, because we save lots of money for every kid that gets one of those scholarships and goes to a private school and we don't have to pay to educate them in one of our traditional district schools. We save a whole bunch of money.

David Majure:
But critics say the tuition tax credit program weakens public education by draining tax dollars from public schools.

Steve Yarbrough:
Well, we don't think it takes money out, because, yes it takes students out but the money stays and the point simply is it costs a lot less to give a child a scholarship to go to a private school in Arizona than it costs to educate them in a traditional district school.

David Majure:
Of course, when the public school system loses students, it loses money. On the other hand, it won’t have to educate Nicole Carr’s five-year-old, who attends a private school.

Nicole Carr:
School choice is important to me because my child gets the best education that I think this valley has to offer.

David Majure:
Carr says she'd send her kids to private schools even if the tuition tax credits didn't exist but she's glad they do, because she doesn't have to pay the full price of private school tuition.

Nicole Carr:
No. I get help at a discount rate. I can still afford to pay for her to go. That really helps me and my husband out as well too.

Ted Simons:
Joining me to talk about school choice is Harry Miller, president of the Arizona Student Tuition Organization Association. Thank you so much for joining us on "Horizon."

Harry Miller:
Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons:
What is a school tuition organization?

Harry Miller:
A school tuition organization is something that's enacted by the state law. We are the ones that carry out the tax credit. We're the ones that supply the scholarships for students to attend the private schools.

Ted Simons:
We just had kind of a basic argument, the pros and the cons regarding vouchers, regarding tax credits, these sorts of things. Is it wise right now, in these economic times, to be pushing for diverting more funds away from public schools?

Harry Miller:
I don't think we're diverting more funds. We're just asking to continue to supply the funds we need right now because I would think if we divert more funds away from the school, we would -- if we take more students out of the school we put them back into public school, it'll cost more. It'll take more money. So --

Ted Simons:
And, again, I’m just kind of looking at it from the other side here.

Harry Miller:
Sure.

Ted Simons:
Critics are saying that school choice isn't necessarily a choice. It's schools choosing. They get to choose the people they take as opposed to public schools where the doors are open and the kids come in.

Harry Miller:
That’s true, but I think they take most students that come to them. I know I’ve been involved with private schools for a number of years and we're not hand selecting just the choice students. We're looking for any student that wants that private school education. So, you know, we want to help any student that wants to go to a private school and this helps us with that.

Ted Simons:
Do you think the private schools should be held to the same standards that the government puts on public schools?

Harry Miller:
I don't have any problem with necessarily standards but I think private school should have the freedom to educate they way they feel best will help those children in those schools. Our private schools already do standardized testing and they -- you know, I think the biggest test there is the parents and the satisfaction they have there.

Ted Simons:
The case involving vouchers for disabled and foster kids -- that’s still running through the court of appeals, I believe?

Harry Miller:
Yes.

Ted Simons:
Why isn't it unconstitutional to give state money to private/religious schools? Why is that not?

Harry Miller:
This is taxpayers' dollars. And the taxpayers redirecting those tax dollars. We're not taking money from the state. These are the individual dollars of our individual taxpayers here in the state of Arizona. They're taking their funds and choosing -- it's voluntary and optional. They're choosing to redirect it to help the students in private schools.

Ted Simons:
Yet we did have one appeals judge quoting -- I’m paraphrasing here -- this is constitutional only by ignoring the plain text of the Arizona constitution. How would you respond?

Harry Miller:
Well, I don't know. I -- it's -- again, it's one of those that the justices, and Tim Keller, and those people are going to fight it out in the courts -- you know, I just see it as this is something that's helping our kids. It’s taxpayer dollars. I really believe that.

Ted Simons:
It's obvious that your group does care about children, and is trying to do the best from your stance as far as educating children, and yet there are so many folks who say this is just a way to get the state to pay for kids to go to "Christian" schools.

Harry Miller:
But we represent private schools of all sorts. If you were there at the rally, you were able to see students from Islamic schools all the way through the parochial schools, Christian schools, a variety of different students are being educated in these private schools. It's not just to fund Christian education.

Ted Simons:
But you understand the other side saying that? Because it does seem like it's awfully loaded in that particular area?

Harry Miller:
Yeah, again, I still think it's something that we're going to continue to debate and we're going to continue to discuss this. I think every child in the country, in the United States, should have a choice to go to -- choose the school you want to go to whether it's public school or private school. I just think that's a wise thing. It's going to help us.

Ted Simons:
I heard just one person mention this but I wanted to bring it up to you a lot of t-shirts were printed up. It looked lavish out there, quite the presentation you had, quite the party for the kids. They certainly enjoyed themselves. But again, was it a little over the top considering the economic climate?

Harry Miller:
No, it's all funded by our organizations out of the 10% that we have to come in. We've been -- we've had some private donors as well. No, we don't do it very often. It's not something we do every year. But it was something that we thought was necessary, having just passed the 10-year tuition tax credit time period, we wanted just to say thank you, and to give the kids a chance to see our capitol as well.

Ted Simons:
Are you encouraged by the current make-up of the legislature and the executive branch, regarding further progress?

Harry Miller:
Yes, I am.

Ted Simons:
That’s a pretty quick answer!

Ted Simons:
Last question, obviously, again, you care about children and education, I think someone asked, why are you not as passionate about public education as you are about private education?

Harry Miller:
They must not have talked to me. I'm as passionate about any kind of education for any child whether it be public or private. I think every parent should have the choice to send them to a public school or to a private school. I think it'll only make our public schools even better. It's going to help increase the standards there. And I just think it's a win-win situation for everyone. So I really am not -- I don't object to the public schools at all. My sister was a teacher and just retired this year from the public school system. We have nothing against the public schools.

Ted Simons:
Nothing against them, but again -- so I guess you're simply not buying the argument that taking this money out of the system is taking money out of the public schools system?

Harry Miller:
That’s correct. This argument is going to continue on.

Ted Simons:
Yeah.

Harry Miller:
We have had it over and over again from those with the A.A. As we look at the budget dollars and how things work, they look at it one way and we look at it another way. I still see it as a win for the state of Arizona.

Ted Simons:
All right, very good. Harry, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Harry Miller:
Thank you for having me.


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