Last spring, Utah's legislature passed a private school voucher program. While vouchers have been used on a limited basis in other parts of the country, Utah's law is quite a bit different, and a lot more extensive than anything tried elsewhere. In Utah's system a student leaving the public school system would receive a voucher for the cost of a private school. The amount the student receives is based on family size and income. The average voucher amount is estimated to be $2,000. One of the things that sets Utah's law apart from others is that the public school will still receive the funding they were getting before the student left, but now they have 1 fewer student, resulting in an increase in per-pupil spending.
Of course, the voucher law was not without its opponents, and actually passed by a very slim margin in the House before the Senate and Governor approved it. However, even after its passage, voucher opponents did not rest. Instead, they gathered the thousands of signatures needed to get a proposition on the November ballot to take the issue to the general public.
The voucher debate has been raging in Utah for months now, especially in the blogosphere. Most Utah bloggers are against vouchers, which reflects the mostly Democratic nature of bloggers in general. In Utah, the Democratic party is pretty much unanimous in its opposition to vouchers, while the Republican party is mostly for them, although it is much more of a split vote than one might think.
I have been reading and watching from afar throughout the voucher debate, without much commenting on my part. There are literally dozens of posts on vouchers by just about every Utah blogger I read. Now, the television commercials and glossy mailings are in full force. I even picked up a pile of anti-voucher literature during parent-teacher conference this week. With the election coming soon, I decided it was time to write a voucher post of my own. I've gone over a few of the contention points that I have seen discussed, and that are on much of the pro and anti voucher literature, and have added my thoughts on each:
Many opponents complain that private schools don't have to have "real" teachers. That seemed outrageous, until I remembered that my University of Utah degree was heavy on what they called "adjunct professors". Basically, these professors are just professionals from the community who are hired to teach a few classes at the college. I had a great number of upper division, senior level and higher classes taught by adjunct professors. Incidentally, most of them were great. They actually had real life experiences to share, and insight into what was going on now in the accounting profession.
So now it doesn't seem like such a negative.
"Crazy" religious schools:
Seems a bit far fetched. How many are in the state right now? What's the demand in the state for it?
Honestly, this line of argument reminds me of those that complain to me about the War on Terror just being about using fear to control people. Well, that's exactly what's happening here.
I had an old friend who had an autistic child and they were on a waiting list for a really expensive school and scholarship program. I know that there are many people just like them. Vouchers would help families and children just like my friend's. In fact, vouchers could become the avenue to create more schools designed specifically for individual needs.
Will it Save or Cost Money?
This is one point that has gone back and forth a little. So far, I think final word goes to a pair of posts over at Jesse's blog, here and here.
Basically, the initial fear concerning vouchers was that it would take money away from public schools, so Utah's law provided that the public school will still get the money from the state that they would have gotten had the student remained enrolled. So the voucher proponents now argue that public schools will in effect receive more money per student than they were before. Pretty much a win-win scenario.
Of course, voucher opponents countered back with some math of their own, (see the comments) but overall, and considering Jesse's new calculations, it appears vouchers will result in a net savings for Utah and Utah's public schools.
Representative Steve Urquhart is a sponsor of the voucher bill, as well as being a fellow blogger. He has a lot of good information on his blog, plus this link to a debate he participated in recently. Many of these same questions are brought up in that forum.
After reading the arguments for and against vouchers, and weighing the pros and cons, I will be voting for Referendum 1 next month.