Monday, April 23, 2007

Voucher Myths and Facts

I didn't write this, but I endorse it and I like it. It's clear and concise and research-based. It was compiled by a Utah group opposing vouchers, but you will see links for more detailed information/studies.


Myth #1: Taxpayers will save money under a voucher system.


The claim that vouchers will save the state money rely crucially on the assumption that a large number of students will switch from public to private schools, easing overcrowding and reducing construction costs and fixed expenses. Is there any historical basis for this assumption? The dramatic shifts in student enrollment promised by voucher and tuition tax credit activists have never materialized when voucher or tax credit systems are put in place, and NO STATE HAS SAVED MONEY BY PROVIDING VOUCHERS OR TUITION TAX CREDITS.

A Utah State University study, "Estimating Demand and Supply Response to Tuition Tax Credits for Private School Tuition in Utah" (November 2004) estimated that fewer than one-half of the parents projected to use tuition tax credits would be "switchers" from public to private schools. In addition, the study states "Historically, the parent decisions to send their children to private schools in Utah has little, if anything, to do with price." In other words, a parent's decision to send a child to private school is unlikely to be changed by the availability of public subsidies.

Regardless of the number of students initially switching from public to private schools, each year more students who use vouchers will be those WHO NEVER ATTENDED PUBLIC SCHOOLS and who NEVER WOULD HAVE ATTENDED PUBLIC SCHOOLS. When the program is completely phased in, the state will be providing vouchers for every private school student in the state. With 96% of Utah students attending public schools-and enrollment projected to increase to 600, 000 by 2012-Utah taxpayers can expect to spend money on new schools AND on subsidizing private schools. Legislative fiscal analysts project no savings from the voucher program. By their estimates, vouchers will COST THE TAXPAYERS MORE THAN $450 MILLION OVER THE NEXT THIRTEEN YEARS.

Myth #2: Private school students perform better than their public school counterparts.


All objective studies (such as the 2006 U.S. Department of Education study and the 2001 U.S. General Accounting Office study) find NO APPRECIABLE DIFFERENCES in the performance of public and private school students.

Myth #3: A healthy dose of competition will improve public schools.


A number of studies funded by voucher advocates have PROJECTED improvements in public schools due to competition with voucher schools. However, such studies generally factor out any other reforms-and any other motivations for reforms-in comparable schools or districts.

In Milwaukee, for example, pro-voucher studies credit voucher competition for improvements in milwaukee Public Schools. THese claims ignore the state-supported Student Achievement Guarantee in education (SAGE) program, which provided resources to reduce class size and enhance professional development.

Two decades ago, Chicago's public school system was considered among the worst in the country. After investing in pre-school programs, after-school programs, and summer school, the city is now widely recognized as having made great strides in student achievement.

In short, it's research-based reforms, not competition, that make the difference.

Myth #4: Parental choice is the same as accountability.


Despite the right and ability of parents to remove their children from private schools, many dysfunctional voucher schools have continued to operate year after year. Schools in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Florida provide frightening examples of abuse, fraud, and academic inadequacy. For a look at some of the ways tax dollars have been squandered, see the National School Boards Association's report "Why Vouchers Are a Bad Idea." (Find the report on the web at

Utah's voucher program requires NO ACCOUNTABILITY from private schools for the public funds they receive. It provides fewer protections (for students and taxpayers) than the scandal-ridden programs in other states.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Vouchers not good for Utah schools, society

I'm consistently unsure as to what this blog is supposed to "be." I came across an article that was first published in the Daily Herald that really has me thinking, so I thought I would put it here, for your information.

I am a huge advocate of public education, I have a degree in English Secondary Education, I have taught in different public schools, and I am the product of public schools. This is a hot topic. Enjoy!

Vouchers not good for Utah schools, society
by Richard Davis, Linda Shelton and Jim Hunter

Utah must seem funny to much of the rest of the United States.

We're not talking about polygamy or state liquor laws. Rather, it is the fact that the state will be paying people not to send their children to Utah's public schools.

Next year, the state will pay an estimated $9 million to parents not to send their children to a public school. And the cost will go up to an estimated $48 million a year by 2020.

Not only does that seem strange, but this is the state with the lowest per-pupil spending in the nation. Utah not only spends the least on public education per capita but spends more than $400 less per pupil than the next lowest state. Yet somehow the state has money to give to people not sending their children to public schools. Clearly, this policy makes no sense fiscally.

It also does not speak highly of Utah's commitment to its own public education system. This despite the fact that Utah students consistently rank highly on AP tests, Utah has a much higher-than-average high school graduation rate, and the state excels at the percentage of residents who are college graduates. Moreover, about 95 percent of Utah's school-age children attend public schools. Clearly, public education should be a Utah value.

Yet, various groups supporting vouchers routinely malign Utah's public schools. Some voucher proponents even hope the public education fails and the state turns to private education.

With all the criticism of public schools, it is easy to forget why we have public education in the first place. The United States invented public education; Horace Mann established the first public school in Massachusetts in 1839. Public schools spread quickly across the nation and dominate today. Universal access to education is a hallmark of America, one that Americans can be proud of. Our public education system is key to that universal access.

Unlike many other nations, Americans reject a caste system where rich people go to private schools and everybody else goes without an education or is left to a severely under-supported public education system. Such systems are the product of an intense selfishness where those who have the resources to help society as a whole instead choose to create their own private school system.

By contrast, America is a public-oriented society valuing the education of everybody's children. Public education brings together students from across the potential societal divides - rich and poor, black and white, Catholic or Protestant or LDS. It creates a common culture for our society. As children learn together in public schools, they later become adults who share common values, participate together in civic life and possess a sense of community. Public education is designed to bring us together, to enhance our sense of a united people.

But with vouchers, we are moving away from those traditional American values. And, sadly, Utah is leading the way backwards. Backwards to the two-tier system Horace Mann and many educators over the years sought to change. Backwards to the type of system that is prevalent in so many other nations. (It would be surprising for many in those countries who want to reform their systems and adopt the U.S. model to think that there are those in the United States who want to emulate their model.)

Proponents of vouchers will respond by saying the idea of choice is American, too. Indeed it is. But vouchers are not about choice. The choice to send children to a private school is not the issue. Choice already exists.

The issue is taxpayer money being taken form the many to support a few who don't want to send their children to public schools and want taxpayer money to do it. It is about a government subsidy, a handout if you will, to pay people not to attend public schools.

Opting out has always been, well, an option for anyone. No child is forced to attend public school. And those who want to form their own subculture certainly are allowed to do so in a free society. But, until now, the state didn't subsidize people who opted out. Vouchers, however, do just that.

A petition is circulating to place private school subsidies on the ballot. We urge residents to sign it. Let the voters decide whether our taxpayer money should be spent of public education or on private school vouchers.


Richard Davis teaches political science at BYU. Linda Shelton teaches English at UVSC. Jim Hunter is Associate Director of the Institute of Emergency Services