Tuesday, February 14, 2006

AZ Legislature: Let's Help Others By Helping Ourselves Instead!

It's been hectic here, which is why the Monday email is coming out so late on Tuesday. I like the editor's ambiguous headline, although mine was a little more direct: "The Republican Way To 'Solve' The ELL Problem Is To Help Republicans." I also misspelled Rep. Yarbrough's name in the paper, and he sent me an email objecting to that (but not to anything else--I guess I got his salary right), and I assured him, having been referred to as Sam Coopersmith (or, in my first time in the New York Times, as "Copersmith") more times than I can remember, that I certainly sympathized. I even offered to correct it in next week's column, if that's what he really wanted. Another chance to remind people that he has an interest in the tax credit expansion and serves as chair of the House Ethics Committee? Who does he think he is, Julie Myers?

Regarding the correction to last week's column, thanks to my friends who remember more of biology than I do from 10th grade.

For GOP, ELL Bill Is Chance to Better Selves
East Valley Tribune, Feb. 12, 2006

Let me help explain the connection between helping students who need to learn English -- an obligation the state has failed to meet, at the cost of daily federal court fines of $500,000 -- and the GOP “solution,” a private school tuition tax credit.

The connection? None. Connections? We don’t need no stinkin’ connections. According to the ‘wingers who control the legislatures in Arizona and in DC and their local pundit enablers, there’s no problem or human condition whatsoever that can’t be used to justify a tax cut for themselves and their buddies. It’s their hammer, and everything is a nail.

War? Cut the taxes of those not fighting. Katrina reconstruction? Cut the taxes of those not affected. Teaching English-language learner (ELL) students what they’ll need to succeed as our future workforce? Give a huge corporate tax break to people sending their kids, who already speak English, to private schools.

ELL kids are overwhelmingly in public schools, but the GOP insists on sending money to private schools. And as Richard Ruelas of the Arizona Republic noted, there are two teensy problems with the GOP plan. First, no private schools exist that can teach English to the large numbers of ELL students involved. A school here and there could take a student or two, but that doesn’t come anywhere close to a solution.

Second, there’s no way to get those ELL students to private schools, even if they existed. As Ruelas noted, the districts serving south and west Phoenix, where many ELL students are concentrated, already have school choice, but parents don’t shift children from their neighborhood school, even if underperforming, to better schools, undoubtedly due to lack of transportation. These parents can’t drive their kids across town to a different school, but the GOP tuition credits are designed for people with private cars.

One local columnist who somehow always thinks inside the GOP box interviewed a mother with a Hispanic surname who said that she would send her kids to a private school if only there were more tax credits. It was a heartwarming little tale, unless you realized the columnist doesn’t speak Spanish and must have talked to the mother in English -- and ELL kids don’t come from English-speaking homes. Once again, the need to help ELL students becomes a magical opportunity to shower other people with tax benefits.

The reality of no private schools and no transportation doesn’t bother the GOP legislative leadership. They wave their hands and say that “the market” will take care of it, when it hasn’t before and when there’s no evidence that it will. But there’s plenty of evidence that a private school tuition tax credit really benefits the pundits and politicians supporting the GOP “solution.”

There’s the local pundit who sends his kids to private schools and uses his platform to support this tax credit without mentioning that inconvenient fact. There’s Rep. Steven Yarbrough, R-Chandler, executive director (at $106,000 annually, in 2004; 2005 data aren’t available yet) of the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization, which solicits private school tax credits. You might think that’s an ethical problem, except that the Chair of the House Ethics Committee is Rep. Steven Yarbrough. (Hat tip: Ted Prezelski, the more handsome twin--although he can't spell, either.)

These guys all attack the Governor because she’s insisting on a bill that actually directs help to the schools where ELL kids actually go, and where they’ll continue to attend regardless of how many new private schools spring up in the suburbs. They're furious because she's interfering with Republicans using yet another problem as an excuse to help themselves. Enough already, guys.

Finally, one correction from last week: Some friends reminded me that bacteria are prokaryotes, not eukaryotes, so a taxonomically-correct ban on “human-animal hybrids” would not interfere with commercial insulin production -- assuming that the Bush administration and Congress know their biology. Don’t hold your breath on that one, either.

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