Utah voucher fight: Ball of confusion


It’s not clear who will win in the bloody vouchers war going on in Utah — it’s only clear that, once again, public education, students and teachers, lose.

Utah’s legislature, a bastion of Republican conservatism in the last decade or so, passed a voucher bill in its just-ended regular session. Conservative legislature, conservative governor — a law authorizing vouchers is what should be expected these days, no? What the advocates of vouchers failed to take into account has made this quite a drama.

Utah’s voters don’t like vouchers much, but love their public schools a lot.

So, the Utah state board of education opposed the measure. A hint of graft in existing alternatives to public schools angered many citizens. Opponents pointed to, among other things, the possibility that vouchers would vacuum funding from public schools — Utah is already dead last in per-pupil spending in the U.S.

It’s turned into a real donneybrook. [Bloody details below the fold.]

Utah citizens started a petition to get a referendum to dump the law. The petition gathered a record number of signatures, far exceeding the number needed to get an election. The election is scheduled for November.

The legislature then went back and passed an amendment to the proposed voucher law, by a two-thirds majority, which means the second law cannot be submitted to a referendum.

So, Utah citizens, opposing a voucher law the legislature passed, have a referendum to reject the voucher law; the legislature, to frustrate opposition, passed a second law that citizens cannot strike down; language for the ballot measure appears to be slanted against the citizen groups. Still with us?

Today we see the parties heading to court to litigate even before the vote.

Today’s Salt Lake Tribune highlights the widespread confusion:

Confusion surrounds a November vote on the state’s private school voucher program despite actions taken Thursday by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and legislative leaders meant to clarify the situation.
If anything, things got muddier.
The leaders released a joint statement but don’t agree on its meaning. Key legislators filed a lawsuit that would turn the ballot question on its head.
Neither effort answers the question at the core of this highly political fight: If voters approve the referendum, does that kill the voucher program?
The answer may come from the only other branch of the government: the courts.
The referendum aims to repeal one voucher law, but another that accidentally re-enacted major portions of the first one would remain on the books. Some say that second law can be used to give parents state money to help defray the cost of private school tuition. Others don’t. And everyone, including Huntsman, expects the courts to play a big part in sorting it all out.
“Oh man, it’s such a mess,” Senate President John Valentine said.

I hereby nominate John Valentine for the Understatement of the Year award.

The Deseret Morning News tries to clarify what the confusion is about:

Parents for Choice in Education; Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble, R-Provo; Rep. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George; and a few parents sued the Legislative Research and General Counsel, which wrote the ballot title, and the Lieutenant Governor’s Office. The lawsuit asks the Utah Supreme Court to revise the ballot title to clarify what the public will be voting on.

Here is the text of the referendum as it is to appear on the ballot; notice that vouchers are called “scholarships,” and you can begin to see why the fight is already headed to the courts:

Ballot title prepared by the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel:
Citizens’ State Referendum Number 1

In February 2007, the Utah Legislature passed H.B. 148, Education Vouchers. This bill will take effect only if approved by voters. The bill:
Establishes a scholarship program for:
* Qualifying school-age children who newly enroll in eligible private
schools; and
* Lower income school-age children who continue their enrollment in eligible private schools; and
* Provides for scholarships within that program of $500 to $3,000, depending on family size and income, increasing those scholarship amounts in future years; and
* Allows school districts to retain some per-student funding for scholarship students who transfer to private schools.

Deseret Morning News politics editor Bob Bernick wrote a column that explains some of these confusing actions — politicians have a lot of material to use to cover their tails:

• First, joining the lawsuit, the GOP lawmakers are clearly telling Huntsman not to call a special legislative session to try to “fix” the two-voucher law problem. (Huntsman says he won’t call such a session, saying there is “not the political will” to act on vouchers now.)

• Second, the lawsuit gives Huntsman cover to duck the difficult voucher issue. He can say it is inappropriate for him and legislators to try to deal with the voucher mess in a special session when the matter is before the courts.

• Third, it takes a critical political argument away from Democrats and the public education community, who oppose vouchers.

• Fourth, a court action may well stall for time. If there is no court ruling before the Nov. 6 vote, then pro-voucher groups can make the public argument that citizens should vote “no” on the ballot to allow the courts time to rule on the controversial subject.

• Finally, a court may actually side with the pro-voucher argument, and the Nov. 6 vote may be postponed or the ballot language rewritten to say that the vote is not binding on Utah lawmakers.

Considering that most public opinion polls over time show more Utahns oppose vouchers than favor them, the pro-voucher advocates have little to lose legally over this new lawsuit. But the real advantage of this lawsuit is political.

Education reform advocates have a right to be concerned. When legal and legislative maneuvers get so far out of hand, the schools always lose, the students lose, teachers get a collective black eye — and rarely does anything change for the better.

Vouchers in Utah do not make a lot of sense. Utah’s educational system is overhwelmingly public — when I grew up in Utah County, the second or third largest in the state at various points — the private schools were closing down. Brigham Young University closed its laboratory school, Brigham Young Academy, and St. Francis High School, a Catholic school, was closed (my recollection is the earlier grades remained). Most of the land area of Utah had population densities so light that it was unreasonable to try to make any private school work. Much of the public school budget was spent on busing, with students in some places riding nearly 100 miles one-way, everyday, to get to school. (San Juan County was so big, and so difficult to get to by road, that it had two county seats, so people could reasonably conduct county business in one day).

While Utah is home to the largest private university in the U.S., Brigham Young University in Provo, it also has the oldest state university west of the Missouri — the University of Utah traces its founding to 1850, when Brigham Young himself established the University of Deseret. With three sizable, well-reputed state universities back in the 1970s — Utah, Utah State University in Logan, and Weber State University in Ogden — Utah has grown in population and added to the state system. The former College of Southern Utah, in Cedar City, is now a major institution, Southern Utah University (the expansion was fueled partly on the patronage of former Gov. Michael Leavitt, an alumnus of the school, who has since served as Director of EPA and Secretary of Health and Human Services — his archives, here).

In the 1970s, Utah tied with Hawaii for the highest average educational attainment of any state. With a population about a million and a half whose median age at 25, average educational attainment was 13 years, a year past high school. The state was founded largely through the efforts of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, or Mormon), and the church puts a premium on education. “Knowledge is the Glory of God” is a frequent saying among church members. Utah had a string of people who served as U.S. Education Commissioner in the old U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and it was only natural that one of those people would serve in the Department of Education once it was broken out — as Terrel Bell did during the Reagan administration.

So Utahns take this education stuff seriously. The mess from the legislature, governor’s office, interest groups and courts, is not something Utah would readily tolerate in the old days. At one point, when the legislature and governor did not support education as many thought necessary, the Utah Education Association organized, and practically picked the next governor (George D. Clyde‘s successor, Calvin L. Rampton, who was Utah’s first three-term governor), and dominated the legislature for years).

With this history of strong backing for public education at all levels, the fight for vouchers in Utah probably is not analogous to voucher fights in eastern states, though it may be a bellwether for what happens in western states other than California.

The fact that education in Utah is in trouble is a historic shift. The work Utahns put to pulling their state’s schools out of the mire may be history-making, too.

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16 Responses to Utah voucher fight: Ball of confusion

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    One has to wonder how the Utah Taxpayers Association — who are partisan in this election — screwed up their numbers so badly. Don’t they have any fact checkers?

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  2. Ender Wight says:

    From utahtaxpayers.blogspot.com

    The tax increase voucher opponents won’t tell you about, and how to avoid it

    The state Supreme Court has cleared up the ambiguities about Citizen’s State Referendum 1 this fall, and the campaign is under way. The first volley came when both sides submitted reasons for the referendum to repeal Utah’s voucher law to the Lt. Governor’s Office. While voucher supporters offered cogent reasons to vote YES on Citizen’s State Referendum 1, the opponents trotted out tired assertions that our elected officials have heard and rejected. More importantly, the opponents ignore the taxpayer reasons every Utahn should say YES to vouchers.

    Recognizing the need to better fund Utah’s public schools, the Utah Legislature has more than doubled per pupil spending over the past 15 years. This dramatic increase-today Utah spends just over $7500 per pupil-has been possible because the state’s economy has been red hot, while enrollment growth has been flat. Between 1990 and 2006 Utah’s classrooms grew by only 18%, while the number of Utah jobs grew by a whopping 67%.

    Unfortunately, these trends no longer prevail. Between 1990 and 2004, Utah schools never grew by more than 10,000 students in a given year; in 2005, 14,330 new students enrolled, and another 16,075 entered in 2006. The State Office of Education’s most current projections show another 156,345 new students entering Utah classrooms between 2007 and 2016, nearly quadruple the number of new students who entered Utah classrooms in the 1990’s.

    More troubling is the reality that Utah’s economy will not always grow so rapidly. Since 1980, Utah has had 2 significant economic slowdowns, in 1986 and again in 2001 to 2003. With student enrollment growing faster than it did in the 1990’s, but not so fast as it is now, the 1986 slowdown forced lawmakers to impose the largest tax increase – $176 million – in Utah history.

    The 2001 to 2003 slowdown happened while Utah school enrollment was flat, so no tax increase was necessary. However, it was all the Legislature could do not to cut public education spending. And if the slowdown had lasted just 6 months longer, Legislators would likely have had to raise taxes again.

    It is at best folly-at worst irresponsible-to hope that Utah’s hot economy can protect taxpayers from further the tax increases brought on the dramatic increase in public school enrollment. With the largest families in the nation, and per capita income well below the national average, lawmakers must identify policy options that simultaneously reduce the strain on our public school system and increase the amount of money available to educate Utah children.

    That is why the Legislature and the Governor adopted HB 148. Vouchers help solve both aspects of Utah’s education-taxpayer dilemma. Each time a student switches from public school to private school because of vouchers (worth between $500 and $3000), Utah’s public schools have one fewer child to educate, and they have between $4500 and $7000 more to spend on the rest of Utah’s children. In other words, vouchers decrease the number of students in Utah classrooms and increase the amount of money available for other students. Utah policy makers rightly see vouchers as one of several tools we need to avoid another tax increase. The lessons of 1986 and 2001 to 2003 are too clear and compelling to avoid any other conclusion.

    Utah Taxpayers Association

    Posted by Utah Taxpayer at 2:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

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  3. Ed Darrell says:

    Utah is at the bottom of the per capita spending for school pupils — $7,500? I don’t think so.

    $7,500 is above the national average. I don’t know where you got that figure. Utah’s actual figures are much lower. See this report from the Utah State Legislatures Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analysis (2003 figures — have they doubled in four years? no):
    * National Education Association Ranks Utah #50 (out of 51) in Per Pupil Revenue and Expenditures for 2001
    * National Average = $7,079
    * Utah Average = $4,475
    * Per Pupil Expenditures Increased 21.3% from 1992-2001 = 17th in Nation
    * Utah spends $39 Per Pupil for Each $1,000 in Personal Income = 32nd in Nation

    If you took $3,000 of the $4,475 average Utah per pupil spending, you’re taking 2/3, or 67% of the funding.

    But I thought one of the ideas was to create a competition for better education? Not only does this plan suck funding from public schools, it’s set up so that public schools can only lose. If they “win” the competition, they get nothing additional, they only get to keep what they already have (which is inadequate).

    There is total of $1,475 left in the public school, not $4,500, if the $3,000 comes out.

    [WARNING: Cheap insult to voucher advocates ahead] I see where we have a problem here. Voucher advocates can only do math if they start with inflated figures. [/insult mode]

    It’s an unfair system Utah’s voucher program sets up. Public schools cannot gain, only lose. Public education gains nothing, though Utah’s achievement ranks high in the nation despite ranking near last in the nation in most funding measures. So, despite working miracles on the cheap, Utah’s public schools and public school teachers get a swift kick in the rear.

    Vouchers are designed to destroy morale among educators, especially in the public schools, it appears. Utah’s voucher proposal is designed specifically to siphon money out of public schools, to cripple them — that’s the only fair conclusion when it becomes clear that public schools cannot increase their funding even if they do everything right.

    America was built on education. If communists had tried to do this to the public schools, we’d have launched atom bombs. If terrorists did this to the schools, we’d find a foreign nation to invade. Is it unfair to compare voucher advocates to our Cold War enemies and terrorists? If their actions are as destructive, why is it unfair to point that out?

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  4. Ender Wight says:

    For every student in public school there is approx. $7500.

    Under the Voucher plan, when a student leaves public school to go to a private school, the MAXIMUM amount that can follow the student is $3000, ( A family that has good income might only qualify for $500.)

    So- a class has 30 students; 5 leave to go to private schools. Even if the maximum is taken out, which is only for students from poor families, that leaves $4500 per each student that is no longer there, to be distributed among the remaining 25.

    The Voucher Program is not perfect- the entire amount of $7500 should follow students, no matter what their families income is- but it is a start.

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  5. Ed Darrell says:

    Here’s a story from the SL Tribune discussing the details of how the voucher program provides too little aid to help the poor, and aid only for richer families along the Wasatch Front (which is probably shortened to “north of Provo, to Ogden” in this case):
    http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_5301412

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  6. Ed Darrell says:

    Please point out for me the provision of more money for vouchers in Utah. I’ve missed that in my readings. So far as I know, there was no new money allocated — got the citation and the figures? Please provide them.

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  7. Ender Wight says:

    You are confused. The Public School system is meant to turn children into factory workers. That was it’s original intent and it has done a very good job.

    Education does not belong under the jurisdiction of the FED, it belongs first in the hands of parents and kept at a local level.

    The reason Utah has supported public schools so willingly, since 1847, is that as a conquered people by the US government, Utahans- specifically Mormons- were MADE to send their children to public schools to de-indoctrinate them.

    The Vouchers Program does not take money from public schools- it actually increases the dollar per student within the public classroom.

    As for few public schools in Utah- especially Utah Valley- that is hogwash. How long has it been since you have actually been in Utah Valley?

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  8. andbrooke says:

    Speaking of the voucher folks’ ulterior agenda, Referendum One has done a pretty thorough job of exploring the names and money behind vouchers in Utah. Well worth a look.

    http://accountabilityfirst.blogspot.com/

    And thanks again, Ed Darrell, for speaking so clearly on a topic which has so many confused.

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  9. Ed Darrell says:

    Jake, your second point is one I find inherently dishonest.

    2. “…when a kid leaves a school, the money goes, too — all of it.”

    True. A school receives funding based on the number of students it serves. Each student represents a certain amount of money for that school. Specifically, the per pupil funding is the average amount of money the school is expected to have to spend in order to educate that child. However, if the school is not educating the child, then it doesn’t get the money. Is this really that surprising? If the school isn’t educating a student, then the school doesn’t need the money it would take to educate that student. Certainly any school would prefer to have more money, but if each child costs a certain amount to educate on average, why should the school receive the funding if it isn’t providing that service? Does a school serving 500 students need the same amount of money as a school serving 1000? If not, why should a school receive money for a child that it does not educate

    Remember, this voucher law is intended to squeeze schools that are failing — those are the schools that need the money most. The money figures in to how many teachers can be hired, how many books can be bought, how much paper is available, how many books are in the library — any aspect of education you can think of, with the possible exception of the physical plant itself, comes out of that money. The way the Utah voucher plan is structured, failing schools will be hit hardest.

    Um, I don’t know if you’ve ever been a champion at anything, but I’ve never known a championship team that did it on the cheap — and I’ve been affiliated with a lot of them. Cutting money is a way to guarantee mediocrity. That’s what I object to with vouchers, the institutionalizing of mediocrity.

    That a kid fails, and that the kid’s failing drags a school down to an “unacceptable rating,” has almost no bearing on whether the school is educating that kid. Under No Child Left Behind, a school that sends 90% of its kids to Ivy League colleges on full scholarship can be ranked “unacceptable” if the special education kids can’t pass the exit exam — and that’s required by the law. We have schools here in Texas with award-winning programs for special education kids. But under the federal law, if those kids can’t be brought up to grade level (we’re talking retarded kids!) the school is ranked “unacceptable.”

    In this case the Utah voucher law would steal money from a school that is working miracles with special education kids. Is that your intent?

    The single best predictor of whether a kid will succeed at school, and on the standardized tests, still is the number of books in the kid’s home. The best predictor of books is the education level of the parents. The connection is not a simple one — simply stacking books in the homes of failing kids doesn’t work. The number of books is probably a secondary effect, though a good predictor.

    Now tell me: How does taking money from a school change a kid’s parents?

    You’re pulling the trigger before you carefully aim on this thing, and your gun is shooting innocent schools. Who suffers then? The rest of the kids at the “failing” school.

    Assume the school closes — who wins? Is any money saved? Unlikely — if the school really closes, the kids will be bused to a different school, at added expense that takes money from education.

    As I said, if you really think vouchers work — and I don’t think you are convinced — you’d argue for new money vouchers. Give the vouchers to kids with NEW money they can carry with them. Allow the kids to use that money at their neighborhood schools, too, if the parents decide that they’d like to keep their kid at the same school. If you survey parents who move their kids, often they’ll say flat out they’d prefer to stay at the old school, but they don’t get the money if they do.

    So the voucher forces parents to move their kids when they don’t want to, and they steal money from schools that desperately need it to help the OTHER kids.

    And here’s the irony: Assume that your kid is the smartest kid at a failing school. You don’t get a voucher — you get stuck at a school with less money.

    NCLB aims at mediocrity, and it slaps down excellence in order to get there. It’s a terrible law, and vouchers increase the injustice.

    Vouchers, as Utah’s law has them, are vampires on the neck of the schools, sucking the lifeblood out of them. Generally such vampires are assumed to be a tool of the devil, and those in league with the vampires are also evil. I gotta wonder: If vouchers are so good, why not make them new money vouchers and let them do their stuff?

    I think there an ulterior agenda, to kill public schooling. That’s an A-1, gold-plated, stupid idea.

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  10. […] discussion here about the Utah education voucher fight.  Pay special attention to the comments from Jake Savage.  […]

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  11. Ed Darrell says:

    I’ll have to answer Mr. Savage ad seriatum, piecemeal.
    Here’s part 1:
    Allow me to expand:
    “Inherent” means roughly “existing as an essential characteristic.” Any plan to take money from schools is not a plan that is friendly to that school. How much more “inherent” could it get? Voucher plans remind me of an old story my father used to tell. He said that he and his father noticed one of their best horses did more work than most of the others, and ate considerably less than all the others. They wondered if they could train it to eat even less. They reduced its diet, and it still did fine. They wondered how little it could work on, and they kept training it to eat less and less. Eventually they got it so it ate nothing at all. But before they could show it off, the horse died.

    How much starvation does it take to beef up public education? No voucher proponent has ever given me a good answer to that question, and you don’t either. I spent enough time in government and business to know that it is impossible to starve a program to success, in any endeavor.

    We’ve been cutting funding for public education since at least 1981. Overall spending is up, but only because further cuts would shut the schools down. Gone are the days when a city like Seattle would build an architectural masterpiece with high ceilings, a well-stocked library, and other accoutrements that make people ooh and ah over a building – except, perhaps, in rich districts. We used to regard schools as centerpieces of our communities – no longer. School libraries are strapped. Textbook shortages are nationwide. Most classrooms look like warehouses because of the lack of storage space and lack of furniture to store things like books. Teacher shortages threaten what gains we’ve made.

    At what point do we stop and say “We’ve made the cuts to achieve the quality we wanted?” and stop the cutting? What is your ultimate goal?

    Education is one of the few areas where we have determined to refuse to spend additional money until conditions improve. In every case in the U.S., school vouchers are designed to take even more money from the public schools.

    Did voucher advocates ever read the story of how George Washington was bled during his terminal disease? Those stories were not meant to be models of future behavior. Remember, Washington died.

    Any plan that takes money from schools for after school tutoring similarly consumes the principal from which the interest would have grown. Such a program eats the seed corn. You’ll get a bellyful this year; but next year, or maybe the next, you starve.

    Tutoring programs should provide extra money – as Title I is intended to do – to do the extra work. We can’t cannibalize education and hope to improve it. The programs you cite, tutoring, special education, and adult education, were all based on new money into the program, not based on cannibalizing programs already existing as vouchers are. Did these other programs work? Their bringing new money into the system was a large part of why they worked. So no, they are not inherently designed to cause schools to fail, the way vouchers are designed to cause schools to fail.

    I agree that programs should be judged on consequences. Vouchers kill public schools, which Jefferson noted are the basis of our freedom. I’m unwilling to accept such consequences.

    How do I know what vouchers are designed to do? Because I’ve spent enough time in the backrooms where the programs are designed, and I’ve watched how they were designed. As I noted, a new moneyvoucher program would be beneficial – that’s not what is proposed in Utah (though, there was a proposal in Utah once that would have provided more money; pity it didn’t survive).

    A point I made earlier is in danger of getting lost here: Utahns since 1847 have strongly supported public schooling with neighborhood schools. No one I know of has made a good case for why the vast majority of Utahns should not get such a program, since they want it, and it has proven results. Problems in Utah schools now stem at least partly from a failure to fund the schools as well as every other state. Vouchers don’t cut the cost at all, so the new law doesn’t address Utah’s chief problem, but instead exacerbates the problem.

    Is there a case to change Utah’s system? I haven’t seen it, and you guys aren’t making it.

    Most voucher programs start from an assumption that families pay taxes to school their kids, and so the families should have a right to direct the spending of the tax money. That applies nowhere else – specifically, pacifists have been denied the opportunity to keep their money from funding the Department of Defense, and anti-abortion advocates have been denied the opportunity to keep their taxes from paying for abortions. Education monies are intended to provide the public benefit of an educated electorate, and an educated corps of people from which to draw the leaders that make government operation. Nationally there is no right to education, nor do most states confer such a right (a few do). Our educational system is not designed to provide a right to education to families or individual students, but instead is designed to provide the general population with education necessary to make our government and industry run. Every voucher program implemented in America turns that notion on its head, and starts from a premise that education is for the individual who gets the voucher.

    To your third point, our measure of school success is whether the kids are learning what they need to be learning – or should be. The voucher drive in America now is intended to offer kids who are not learning, an alternative. If the unstated goals are otherwise, that subterfuge is all the more reason to reject the program. If the child is better educated at a private school – and that will apply to a minority of students in a well functioning system – let the kid go. If you want to provide public funding for the kid, go find the funding and provide it. But if your goal is to get into a private system those kids who will benefit from the private schools, why is it necessary to take money from the public schools to do it? How does taking money from a public school help a kid in a private school? It doesn’t. It can’t. We cannot starve the beast to success.

    By the way, are you familiar with the term “starve the beast?” Google it some time.

    [More later, probably]

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  12. Ed Darrell says:

    I find it interesting that Jake denies the intent or methods of taking money from the public schools in his advocacy of vouchers, then Bruno chimes in and states that as a goal explicitly.

    I have a lot more to say, perhaps later, but I would note that private schooling in America has never been able to meet the needs of our democratic republic, which is why we have the public education system that is the model for the world that we have today; nor is there much data, if any, to indicate that taking money from public schools to give to “competition” makes either school better. Were vouchers held to the standards teachers are supposed to meet under No Child Left Behind — proven methods — vouchers wouldn’t get out of the starting gate.

    Thanks for coming by, gentlemen — feel free to expand on your views here.

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  13. Bruno says:

    Mr. Darrell,

    I don’t mean to sound mean here, but it isn’t about you, your salary, or your benefits. It also isn’t about the bricks and mortar of an anachronistic education model.

    Your biggest beef is that “vouchers drain money from schools.” I hope and pray that someday the school choice movement will have the courage to say “Damn right, and that is the way it should be!”

    If taxpayers are on board for supporting “an educated populace,” then there is no earthly reason why that goal must be met by a protected monopoly that has shown ever greater needs for resources while producing a product that is decreasing in quality.

    The best answer to your critique is to say “We are no longer funding “systems” and “bureaucracies.” We are funding children directly. The money will flow to the providers that do the best job.

    If “an educated populace” is one’s goal, then there is no intellectually sound argument against 100% fully-funded parental/family choice. There are certainly economic/financial arguments against school choice for the text book industry, teacher’s unions, municipal bond churners, and the numerous interlocking bureaucracies that have so nearly destroyed education in America.

    I simply argue that we ignore those arguments, as they are against the public’s interest.

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  14. Jake Savage says:

    Ed,

    Allow me to make a few brief comments regarding some of what you’ve said:

    1. “Any plan that takes money from schools is inherently designed to make schools fail.”

    There is so much wrong with this sentence and the perspective it portrays that it is hard to know where to begin.

    First, either you are unfamiliar with the definition of the term “inherently” or you lack imagination regarding potential education reforms. What about plans that “[take] money from schools” in order to create after-school tutoring opportunities, special education programs outside the school, adult education to help parents support their children’s education, and other innovative ideas? Can you truly say that these programs are “inherently designed to make schools fail” when they help create the support structure that is truly necessary for a school to succeed?

    Second, how do you know what the voucher plans were “designed” to do and why should that even matter to the debate? Policies should be judged on their consequences, not their motivations, and in any case you are simply attributing a negative motive to your opponents in order to smear them before any real discussion can be had on the merits of the proposed policy. Bad form.

    Third, why would we care if *schools* succeed or fail when what we real want to know is whether children are being educated? Remember, the public is not served by the school system unless that system is educating children. The child’s education is the public good being achieved through education policy, not the continued existence of the school itself. If a child is better educated at a private school than at a public school, then the public is better served giving the child a voucher to receive that better education, all other things being equal. Likewise, schools and the public school system do not exist to give teachers job security or school boards something to manage. If they are not educating children, they are worthless.

    2. “…when a kid leaves a school, the money goes, too — all of it.”

    True. A school receives funding based on the number of students it serves. Each student represents a certain amount of money for that school. Specifically, the per pupil funding is the average amount of money the school is expected to have to spend in order to educate that child. However, if the school is not educating the child, then it doesn’t get the money. Is this really that surprising? If the school isn’t educating a student, then the school doesn’t need the money it would take to educate that student. Certainly any school would prefer to have more money, but if each child costs a certain amount to educate on average, why should the school receive the funding if it isn’t providing that service? Does a school serving 500 students need the same amount of money as a school serving 1000? If not, why should a school receive money for a child that it does not educate?

    3. “Many parents prefer neighborhood schools…”

    …and many would prefer to have another choice. Who are you to say they don’t deserve it? If parents prefer to stick with their neighborhood school after the introduction of vouchers, they are free to do so. The voucher funds that would have gone to a different school would then be applied to the school the child is attending. If they prefer to go elsewhere, then they have that choice as well. Rather than creating a state-wide referendum to force parents to keep their kids in neighborhood schools by the will of the majority, why not allow parents to make the choice that they believe suits their children? Surely they are better judges of their children’s needs than a bureaucrat with a map and a pen would be. Parents who prefer their local public school to other options can vote with their voucher. Parents who believe their children will be better served elsewhere can do the same. Everyone wins and children no longer have to suffer an education system geared toward the “average” student rather than one focused on meeting their individual needs.

    4. “…you need to be aware that there is an active movement in this nation to kill public schools. It’s not a noble movement based on serious intent to improve education, but it’s cynical and selfish, hoping to cut off the schools on which our democracy depends, hoping to cut off routes for people of color and people of poverty to learn to the levers of power in public politics. It’s a movement aimed at the heart of our Constitution. Vouchers comprise their chief arrow.”

    Really? Funny that I’ve never heard anyone say that these are the reasons they support vouchers, despite having read and heard quite a lot about the issue. Can you name someone who has made this argument and stated these reasons, or are you just making assertions about your opponents’ beliefs to make your own arguments seem morally superior?

    Speaking for myself, I support vouchers for exactly the opposite reasons. I believe that the inadequate public education system for the poor and minorities locks them out of achieving success and learning to manipulate the levers of power. I believe that this system compels their attendance at schools that are often poorly run and that sometimes care less about students’ success than about the security of administrators and teachers. I believe that a truly democratic and meritocratic society requires that we give these children every opportunity to succeed, and I believe that the most effective way to do that is to provide them ways to escape from the bureaucratic school system so they can attend schools that will be created to address their needs and that will respond to parents rather than legislators. I believe that the system you defend is suffocating bright children and keeping them from reaching their potential, not because of malice but because of incompetence and indifference at various levels of power. I believe that school choice offers a better way of funding education and a better hope for at-risk children. You may disagree with me on the consequences of school choice or on the specific methods, but don’t think you can make my arguments go away by attributing them to whatever secret, nefarious motives you may imagine I have.

    5. “What are the choices for voucher cashing a kid in San Juan County has?”

    Without a voucher program, the demand for schools that accept voucher will be zero, so no schools will exist. Once the voucher program is in place, schools will begin to open to serve the new demand that the program creates. It may take a few years for real options to appear for parents in a given location, but the fact that they don’t exist now means absolutely nothing for the long-term success of the voucher program. Besides, if there are no options for a student to use a voucher, then the situation is unchanged and all students will attend the same school they would have anyway. So, even in the scenario in which no new schools open, students are still no worse off than they were before the program started, and if new schools do open (which is far more likely over time), then those students that attend them are better off than they would have been otherwise.

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  15. Ed Darrell says:

    A lot of kids lose with vouchers, too, especially when the vouchers are vampire vouchers like the Utah plan — designed to suck the blood out of education, especially public education.
    Any plan that takes money from schools is inherently designed to make schools fail. Most voucher plans proposed today by conservatives carry a nominal sop to poverty fighters, giving poor kids in “failing” schools the right to pull out for a private school choice, taking money with them. Oh, yeah, technically not all the per student spending from the district follows the student to the private school, but anyone familiar with school finance knows that in most states the schools get their money based on head count. So when a kid leaves a school, the money goes, too — all of it.
    This is particularly devastating to schools in lower-income areas, where resources available to most other schools simply are not there. In my kids’ elementary, for example, the PTA raises about $50,000 a year for various projects. Some years about half that goes to the library. On the poorer side of town, the other PTAs struggle with a half dozen members, and they can raise a few hundred dollars annually. Did I mention that my kids’ school includes three of the four richer neighborhoods in town? Did I mention the school has had “exemplary” ratings in the past few years?
    Schools on the Texas “failing” list frequently suffer from lack of attendance. Parents go to work before sunup, and they are not home to be sure the kids make it to school at all — or worse, the parents don’t get up (why bother when the liquor stores don’t open until noon and there’s no work to be had?), and the kids don’t go to school. So the “failing” schools hurt for money all the time.
    And you think I can take a kid with a discipline problem background, who can’t read up to grade level, whose parents are unemployed or absent, with drugs in the house, and get him to pass the Texas TAKS by sending him to a private school with a half-tuition voucher? How do you propose we get the kid past the entrance exam?
    My experience nationally, staffing the Senate education panels and working at the U.S. Department of Education, is that many parents prefer neighborhood schools — is that a shock? Have you never read Oliver Brown’s story — the Oliver Brown in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education? These parents don’t want to pull their kids out of the neighborhood school. They want the neighborhood school to be better. So, were vouchers not education-blood-suckers, we’d give that kid at that failing school a new money voucher, and let him spend it at the school of his choice. He may well choose to give the money to his own, “failing” school. And with a dozen of those vouchers, the school can do something.
    You may not be among the more cynical of the voucher advocates, Mr. Hansen, but you need to be aware that there is an active movement in this nation to kill public schools. It’s not a noble movement based on serious intent to improve education, but it’s cynical and selfish, hoping to cut off the schools on which our democracy depends, hoping to cut off routes for people of color and people of poverty to learn to the levers of power in public politics. It’s a movement aimed at the heart of our Constitution. Vouchers comprise their chief arrow.
    I had hoped Utah would come up with non-vampire, non-blood sucking, new money vouchers. But it didn’t happen.
    I don’t know the situation today in San Juan County, Utah — do you? What are the choices for voucher cashing a kid in San Juan County has? How about Daggett County? My grandfather helped organize Daggett County, and my mother was born in Manila. What sorts of choices are you offering to those kids? How do vouchers help them out?
    If you’re not helping those kids, you’re promoting a failure of schools, in my opinion.
    Hooray for the PTA members. I hope they win.

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  16. Dave Hansen says:

    Sorry Mr. Fillmore, but if vouchers go forward, the children win. It’s the teachers unions and bureaucrats who lose.

    Why? Because whether you like it or not, vouchers improve education. Every random assignment test done on vouchers (except one) has shown that it improves student performance. The one that didn’t show improvement, found that the voucher students simply did no better. Of course, you also have to consider that a student using a voucher is getting less state funds. So in a nut shell, vouchers let us educate children as well as or better than the current system but at less than half the cost.

    Why do students do better? Simple. Because they’re no longer forced to be in a school that their parents think is failing them.

    Going back to the referendum, you forget an important principle upon which every democratic republic must be founded. It’s called the RULE OF LAW. Based on your arguments, every time some political machine can get 100,000+ signatures, whatever it is that they got signatures for/against should go to a public vote. I’m sorry, but HB 174 passed with 2/3 majority in both houses. If you want to repeal it, then put pressure on the Legislature to change the law in the next session or put forth an amendment to the Constitution, but to say that the state owes Utah a vote just because the union got a lot of signatures is mob rule.

    And concerning the number of signatures they got, it’s not anything amazing. There are 22,000 members of the UEA in Utah. 30,000 public school employees, and over 138,000 PTA members. On top of that, they had total access to our schools, using them as their personal bully pulpit. You couldn’t go to any school event without having a petition shoved in your face.

    I even know people who signed the petition who support vouchers because the people getting the signatures wouldn’t tell them whether the petition was for or against them, only that it was for putting it to a vote. Well, what voucher supporters doesn’t want to vote for vouchers!!

    I agree that education in Utah is in trouble, but it’s not because of vouchers. It’s because of the adults who put the interest of the status quo ahead of the interests of our children.

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