Saturday, February 10, 2007

Utah to Adopt Universal Vouchers?

According to Salt Lake Trib, it's coming.

H/t Right Wing Watch, which has the behind the scenes rundown.

Universal vouchers are economically dicey as the state starts paying for something it hasn't before, namely the tuition of kids who are already going to private school and paying their own way. It will be useful to watch the Utah experiment and see how this plays out.

Of course, in every way imaginable, Utah is different.

UPDATE: To continue the work of the Pho/ohdave Mutual Admiration Society, I note that Dave leaves an excellent comment that makes most of the points I would have continued with if I hadn't been in a hurry to get out of the house this morning. Nice to know I have readers who will pick me up.

Reader DJW also comments with some good specific stuff about the Utah system. Click through and read 'em both.

UPDATE 2: Apparently the Senate did indeed approve the bill Friday and the Governor has promised to sign it. Here are some of the details.

    The vouchers will be open to any of Utah's 512,000 public school students. The amount will depend on family income, but even affluent families would be eligible for at least $500 per child. Students already in private schools would not be eligible.

    The plan, which goes into effect this fall, is expected to cost $9.3 million in its first year and $327 million over 12 years. Utah has a $1.6 billion budget surplus. Public schools that lose enrollment will still receive a portion of state funding for five years after each student departs.

    The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Stephen Urquhart, tried to alleviate concerns that public schools would be shortchanged. In Utah, income taxes must pay for public education. The money for vouchers would come from the state's general fund, which pays for all other state programs.


ohdave said...

If the GOP wants to run a trial balloon on vouchers this is a bad way to do it.

Good public schools populated by suburban white kids will get decimated by the loss of kids going to parochial schools, and they will cut programs, and it will be devstating to those schools as they lose revenue.

Typically the GOP uses a cynical but effective ploy--a la Cleveland and Milwaukee--of giving a handful of poor black kids the opportunity to go to rich Catholic schools populated by wealthy white kids. And everyone says, "how precious", and they think vouchers are great.

I hope the Utah experiment shows everyone just how devastating the program will be UNLESS it is matched by lots of new money. Because if it isn't, the state is basically just taking the same amount of money and trying to spread it around to more and more schools. Putting the same amount of peanut butter on even more slices of bread.

Anonymous said...

I have some relatives who live in Utah, and I am concerned that Utah has odd views concerning education. Utah won't adequately fund primary and secondary schools, yet they champion higher education. Utah has a higher percentage of college graduates within its adult population than any other state has. One would think that a college educated state would put a premium on primary and secondary education, but Utah doesn't, especially in the early grades. The way my sister tells it, Utah voters routinely vote against taxes to support the schools. Utah's population of schoolchildren is, in many cases, too large for the physical facilities they are schooled in. My sister's kids have year-round school (a few weeks in school followed by a few weeks out of school, throughout the year, while other kids are in school when her's are out and and out while her's are in) in order to ease the congestion. Some school districts have trailers for supplemental classrooms. Class sizes are large, and teachers' salaries are definitely lower than they are in Ohio. If Utah voters are upset with the way that public schools operate, they need to look in the mirror, because they've never marshalled the resources to make them very good. They've always overworked the teaching staff, overutilized the physical facilities, and underfunded the entire primary school effort. They've sabotaged their schools, pure and simple.

Anonymous said...

I burned up the phone lines to Utah yesterday to probe relatives about the schools there. As a result, I wish to revise my remarks. It appears that Utah does, in fact, sabotage their public schools, but politicians, along with educational administrators who get involved with the politicians, seem to be the ones responsible for the sabotaging. Voters, parents, and teachers often feel as though they have little impact on public education decisions (how ubiquitous).

With rare exception, public school districts do not have "alternative" schools within their systems. Ohio has many more choices within the public schools. Therefore, curriculum enhancements found only in charter and private schools form part of the demand for the Utah voucher program.

Another part of the demand for vouchers is the classroom size in public schools. Charter schools and private schools in Utah use small class size as a selling point in attracting students from the overcrowded public schools.

One more aspect of the demand for vouchers is the "keeping up with the Joneses," as enrollment of children in private schools is seen as a status symbol for the snootiest elitists. I'm not sure what can be done about the "wannabe" factor.

Though income taxes are supposed to support the public schools, much of that money is diverted by Utah's legislature for other purposes. In theory, Utah has a lot of money designated for their public schools. In practice, Peter is robbed to pay Paul.

Four ways to improve the public schools in Utah that would considerably lessen the demand for vouchers are: 1) Restore the flow of funds designated for public education so that they reach their originally intended destination; 2)Make educational administrators more responsive and accountable to local stakeholders, such as voters, teachers, and especially parents; 3) Introduce alternative schools within the public schools to offer choices that are now only offered in charter and private schools; and 4) reduce class sizes and school-wide overcrowding by building more schools and hiring more faculty (there would be money for this if recommendation no. 1 were followed).

TBMD said...

OH Dave,

Good public schools dominated by suburban white kids are not at risk. Our current system encourages flight to these districts.