The State of Nevada is known for having trail-blazed the development and expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs). ESAs are public funds which go directly to accounts parents can access for school choice options as diverse as private school, tutoring, textbooks, online courses and even a portion that can be saved for university.
Teacher unions and school bureaucrats have been natural opponents to the program and two outstanding Constitutional challenges have finally reached Nevada’s highest court. Arizona has endured similar challenges to its ESA legislation, overcoming claims that the program violated “The Blaine Amendment,” a provision in 37 state constitutions with roots in 1800’s discrimination against Catholics, which prohibits state funds going to sectarian schools.
ESA programs have legally fared better than traditional voucher programs and offer a more comprehensive approach to parental choice. Though voucher programs specifically compensate religious schools for providing services to lower-income families; ESAs provide accounts directly to parents. A parent may choose to use those public funds on a number of education services that are specially tailored to their children’s learning requirements. The difference is salient; public funds go to parents, not to schools.
In Arizona ESAs have been relegated to qualifying low-income students, students whose local public school is considered “failing”, students with disabilities, and most recently Native American students living on reservations. However, Empowerment Scholarships are completely changing the dialogue around education. With the growth of charter schools and alternative methods of schooling, parents are savvier about their children’s options and are demanding more choice and control.
Despite their prevailing sentiment, this competition is good for district schools too. Currently most states fund ESAs at a lower cost per student than public schools. But successful charter schools have proven a higher-quality education can be provided at lower costs with more efficiency. Challenging the monopoly on k-12 education by allowing more providers has put pressure on district schools to respond to parents and students. This is especially true for low income households who are tied to their district school by virtue of their zip code and where they can afford to live. These families have no viable way to provide a better education to their children other than these ESAs.
Nevada ESAs have successfully emerged from lower court challenges; school choice advocates are keeping a keen and optimistic eye on its final appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court. If Nevada is ultimately triumphant, Arizona will have another motivating example for expanding our own ESAs to every family in the state.
At first glance, it appeared taxpayers scored a major victory when A proposed 19-story tower development in the heart of the Roosevelt Row District in Phoenix was denied access to the lucrative GPLET tax break. Unfortunately, it appears that the denial of the property tax subsidy is not about protecting taxpayers—it is really about seeing what additional concessions neighborhood groups and city hall insiders can extract from the developer.
Although the City of Phoenix has currently called an impasse, halting discussions on giving the developer a government property lease excise tax (GPLET,) it is obvious this is simply being held as a bargaining chip. Instead of the community dialogue revolving around the viability of the “Stewart” development, it has been around what concessions the developer can offer to acquire heavy subsidization.
GPLET’s is a crony capitalist land use gimmick that allows a city to take ownership of private property in order to utilize their tax exempt status; in turn they lease their property back to the private owner. GPLETs are often used as bait by cities to dangle in front of developers in order to dictate design specifications and create more bureaucratic centralized urban planning.
In the past Phoenix has handed GPLETs out in the downtown like candy; this has created a Swiss-cheese property tax district. The inevitable effect has been higher property taxes for everyone except the handful of politically connected developers in the area. In fact, the city has sheltered downtown development from more than $1.5 billion in property taxes, contracting the tax base, and shifting the tax burden on residents and small businesses.
Taxpayers in Phoenix shouldn’t hold their breath. If the past is a predictor of the future, Phoenix has not shut the door on handing out millions in a tax carve out for the Stewart Development or others. However, given the City Council recently approved a property tax increase for the rest of Phoenix, one would hope taxpayers would see this as an opportunity to draw a line in the sand and demand their elected leaders refuse to pick winners and losers.
National Employee Freedom Week is a campaign to raise awareness for the rights of American workers to choose without penalty whether to participate in a union or not. The results from a recent survey are a promising sign for employee freedom but also show there is still a lot of work to be done to educate workers about their rights.
When asked “If it were possible to opt out of membership in a labor union without losing your job or any other penalty, would you do it,” almost 30 percent of union members nationally said “yes.” Of the Arizona union households asked, 28.4 percent said they were not aware of their right to opt-out of union membership and dues without losing their job or incurring penalty.
More than two-thirds of union members surveyed said that employees who have opted-out should have the right to represent themselves in negotiations with their employers — meaning more than two-thirds of union households believe in “Worker’s Choice” (where members can completely opt-out of paying any dues or “agency fees,” and instead negotiate directly with their employer). This sentiment was particularly high in strongly unionized states such as California (66.2 percent,) Michigan (70.1 percent,) and New Jersey (65.3 percent.)
In support of further study on this important policy issue, the Heritage Foundation and Nevada Policy Research Institute researched the cost of collective bargaining. According to their study, if union membership was simply made voluntary nationwide, state and local governments would have been able to save between $127 and $164 billion in 2014 alone.
There are still many employees in the United States who feel coerced into belonging to a union. Considering Big Union Bosses are in front of workers on a nearly constant basis, it is imperative we all spread the facts about employees’ freedoms and rights.