The Math on Utah’s School Choice

2 11 2007

Filed under: Utah school voucher, School choice, Politics, Education

Finally, a state that understands the idea of decreasing the control and size of government.

Utah voters will decide Tuesday whether to adopt the country’s first statewide school voucher program that would be open to anyone. The referendum could influence efforts elsewhere to use tax dollars for private school tuition.

Utah’s voucher law would grant $500 to $3,000, depending on family income, for each child sent to private school. Unlike other voucher plans geared toward low-income students or those in failing schools, Utah’s plan would be available to anyone, even affluent families in well-performing districts.

John Stossel believes parents know what’s best for their children’s education:

What a great idea. Finally, parents will have choices that wealthy parents have always had. The resulting competition would create better private schools and even improve the government schools.

But wait. Arrayed against the vouchers are the usual opponents. They call themselves Utahns for Public Schools. They include, predictably, the Utah Education Association (the teachers union), Utah School Boards Association, Utah School Employees Union, Utah School Superintendents Association, the elementary and secondary school principals associations, and the PTA. No to vouchers! they protest. Trust us. We know what’s best for your kids.

They say they’re all for improving education but not by introducing choice. “When it comes to providing every Utah child with a quality education, we believe, as do most Americans, that our greatest hope for success is investing in research-proven reforms. These include the things parents and teachers know will make a difference in the classroom, such as smaller class sizes and investment in teacher development programs. Focusing on this type of reform will bring far greater success than diverting tax dollars to an alternative education system.”

Please. I’ve heard that song for years. Government schools in America fail while spending on average more than $11,000 per student. Utah spends $7,500. Think what an innovative education entrepreneur would do with so much money. It’s more than $150,000 per classroom!

The answer to mediocre public schooling isn’t to give a government monopoly more “teacher development programs.” The answer is competition.

Anti-voucher proponents’ biggest hang up with the program is the loss of income. Some basic math should clear that up:

$7,500 per student. Let’s give the union a break and spot them $1,500 for non-student related costs. That’s $6,000. Now, $3,000 goes to a transfer. That leaves $3,000 left over for the government. Fifty percent cut in revenue, right? Wrong! The government no longer has to spend any money educating that student. That’s a $3,000 surplus that can be recycled into the revenue pool to be used in government schools.

Government schools were intended to bring the education level of poorer towns up to the level of more affluent communities. But which government schools are the worst-performing? The ones in poorer communities. Tax dollars should be spent on public goods: police, fire, and national security protection. Education is a service, not a good. Look at auto insurance. It’s good that everyone has it, but we all pay for our own. It’s the same with education. This program will stop some Utah parents from paying twice for their children’s education.

Captain Ed:

Vouchers simply provide parents with the power always envisioned by the public school system. It simply replaces the school board with a capitalist lever on quality of delivery.

Heaven forbid the union be forced to actually *compete* with an alternative to their stagnant system.

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