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


AzĂșcar said...

I'm glad that the opponents to this law gathered enough signatures to put it on the ballot. I can't believe--or rather I CAN believe that it passed the state legislature. The vocal minority who vote have more sway than the silent majority who don't. I hope that this law is soundly defeated on referendum.

compulsive writer said...

I have been actively lobbying against vouchers for several years now, and my legitimate concerns have gone completely unheard by our elected officials. After it passed the legislator whom I had addressed the most frequently regarding this had the nerve to say, "But you will really like this one!" She is wrong.

I am especially appalled at the misinformation campaign launched by the local media who continues to report biased opinion as fact.

The truth is, we cannot abdicate for any the responsibility to educate all children. If people are not willing to do that out of the goodness of their hearts they should at the very least do it because it is in their best interest as well.

I understand the issues many people have with public schools in other parts of the country. I also understand that public school isn't perfect and sometimes there are times when certain kids need something different. But here in Utah we still have a good public education system. And we already have choice in education. I have witnessed it. So there is no reason for Utah to have the most generous (or you might call it agressive) voucher system anywhere. You are correct. We are taking the lead backwards here and we will regret it.

I once had a conversation with Royce Van Tassell, the former head of the local school choice organization. My local representative gave him my phone number in hopes he could explain to me the virtures of vouchers. I had a number of logical questions for him and he did not have a good response for any of them. He was uninformed and illogical and could not answer a single question! What does that tell you?

And anyone that will tell you this will provide more money for public ed is just fooling themselves.

OK, I'm going to stop now. (Except to say when anyone tries to sell you a pack of lies you should always follow the money.)

This was fun Lisa! Next week can we talk about the power struggle between the UEA and the state legislature?

wendysue said...

What? Did I read that correctly? They seriously spend $400 less per student that any other and now they are PAYING people to NOT go to public school. How does that happen?

Does Utah really have that many private schools?

I guess I would assume that there are SOME private schools (like here in Lincoln), but that the public system was just fine.

Why the big push for the private schools? Do they have money that they are pushing towards the legislature to move this forward?

Hmm. Even Nemo would say that all sounds fishy.

lisa v. clark said...

DON'T GET ME STARTED on the UEA. . . !!!

There is a lot of misinformation about "choice" in education. I will print a list of these myths and the truth (explained simply and logically) in my next post.

Wendy, the only reason I can think of why this is such an issue in Utah is the growing number of Charter schools, Private schools, and home schools. Now, as CW mentioned, sometimes these meet the needs of individual students, but the large majority of individuals I'VE TALKED TO (read: non-scientific data collection), it is usually out of a fear of what they MIGHT teach in "Public School," or a collection of misinformation ranging from unsubstantiated test scores (private schools= smarter kids which, by the way, is not correct according to the 2006 U.S. Department of Education study and the 2001 U.S. General Accounting Office study) to the fear, as one mother told me, that her child would want to wear a Spongebob T-shirt to school. Do your research, FOLLOW THE MONEY, and make your choice, that's all I'm saying. Just don't expect me to pay YOU to make it.

Josh said...

Lisa - this is what your blog needs to be. You are an incredibly smart woman who knows a lot more about this kind of stuff than most of us. (ie. me.) I hate the idea of vouchers. Do college students who chose to attend a private university as opposed to a state funded one get vouchers from the state to offset their higher tuition? No. Do LDS kids who don't go to BYU, where tuition costs are offset by member paid tithing, get vouchers to attend another university? Of course not. There are a lot of things that our tax dollars go towards that we don't necessarily have access to. I am not on medicare or medicaid, but my taxes help fund those programs as well. I have nothing against private schools (that being said I am a big believer in public education) but if you choose to send your kids there, then it is on your dime.

compulsive writer said...

Josh makes a good point. It's a question I asked of my pro-voucher legislator and she practically laughed at me. My point? Is it any more laughable for elementary school than for college?

Anyone remotely involved with the legislature who is intellectually honest about the goings on up on the hill will tell you that the reason vouchers passed in Utah is because of the power struggle between the UEA and the legislature.

I'm particularly disillusioned because my newly elected representative, a former educator himself, campaigned on the platform he would oppose vouchers. Yet when it came down to the vote he caved and supported them. Needless to say I will not vote for him again.

So Lisa, I can't wait for your next post!

(And I think your blog should be whatever you want it to be. It's equally delightful when you post family pics of your sweet family as when you dish politics.)

Lyle said...

Because I am clueless, being in Lubbock and yet have an interest in Utah, what are the stipulations for the vouchers? If it's too much to type, is there a link to a website that explains it?

Yolanda said...

BRAVO, Lisa!!

AzĂșcar said...

p.s. this blog is whatever you want it to be. Politics, First Nation, Pens, everything. I'm pretty sure that if I make a wish on your blog it will come true.

christopher clark said...

Dear Lisa.

I guess that means we have to pull Miles and Owen out of that neo-Republican private school they go to with pictures of George Bush and Eagles everywhere. Oh, just kidding.

Parents: Here's an idea. Instead of spending your money on private and charter schools, how about spending your time in the public schools? It will save you a bundle, and will undoubtedly reap greater rewards in the community. (Or maybe this is just me consoling myself for signing up to direct Shakespeare plays for the Edgemont 5th and 6th graders.)

~j. said...

I feel I'm jumping into this too late (since a new post has already been posted), and I first need to admit that I'm VERY INTIMIDATED by even commenting on this subject amidst such an educated and exicted crowd.

My two cents:

1. I'm against vouchers. They just don't make sense. Lorien explained it to me in a way that I could understand. I think it widens the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

2. I send my kids to a charter school WHICH IS A PUBLIC SCHOOL. They are not allowed to charge tuition. Parent volunteering is required (at LEAST 40 hours per year per family). The night before my kids' school opened, parents were at the school assembling the desks for opening day - that's some dedicated parental involvement. (In my opinion, the school would fall apart if not for the parental involvement.) Charter schools are closely scrutinized and have to work very hard to not be closed by the state. I'm pleased with the education my kids are receiving, and both my husband and I are at the school, being involved, volunteering our time, often.

I wish Charter Schools didn't get such a bad rap.

Queen Scarlett said...

I'm tardy too... nice topic.

I don't have a whole lot to add...everyone has already done it.

The only thing I have to say - is the reason why Utah has such success with public schools - has a direct correlation with parental involvement. That's key in any educational setting you're in, public, private...yada yada.

As someone not in the educational a teacher, admin...etc... would vouchers help those in "bad school districts" get into better schools with more resources??

I know that because I live in an area that scores high in the rankings and... all that - I have no problem with the public school system.

I do have a problem with that lame law that was passed...I think last year or so in Calif where teachers get tenure after just 2 years. That strikes me... as ridiculous. I remember what I was as a PR gal after 2 years...

Andrea said...

A bit late to respond but I felt I just couldn't let this one pass.

"The United States invented public education; Horace Mann established the first public school in Massachusetts in 1839."

I'm afraid that innacurate comments like that just put my back up; they cripple otherwise rational and reasoned arguments. The public school system is not an American "invention" but rather a notion that was borrowed by Horace Mann during his tour of Prussia. Public schooling as he instated it has actually in effect in Prussia for twenty years beforehand, having been brought about as a result of Napoleon's march on Prussia back in 1809. Napoleon himself was a proponent of public education, and the very idea of public schools can be traced as far back as Plato, who thought that the government ought to provide funding for education (he couldn't make it stick, but he made a nice argument all the same).

Mind you, I wouldn't have known any of this if I hadn't learned it in my lovely public school :) Atlantic Canada is comparatively underfunded in terms of education, but my schools had some amazing teachers, and it has been through their efforts (as well as the efforts of friends and relatives who teach in both public and private schools, as well as choosing to teach their children at home) that I have becomes convinced there is a place for each educational system, depending on the situation of the individual child and the educator(s) involved.

What horrifies me about any sort of proposed system like this "voucher" idea is that it seems bent on removing one valid option (public education) from the table, shortchanging the (vast majority, in this case) of students who are evidently already benefiting from the system. And that, IMHO, is just plain Wrong.

Thank you for this post; I'm always looking to add to a growing stockpile of information of different North American educational issues. Hopefully by the time I'm in a position to need it for my own children (when they come along!) I'll have a firmer grasp on just what is out there for them :)