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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Utah Private School Vouchers

Seeing as how there might be a vote on vouchers for students to enroll in private schools in Utah this November, I thought I'd try to get informed about the issue, but I'm having a hard time coming up with hard facts about the referendum.

For one thing, I'd like to actually see what the referendum says, not what people say it says. But I'm not quite sure how to do that. For another thing, the information out there seems to be rather one-sided in the direction of opposing the referendum. Opponents to the bill seem to be teachers in public schools, the UEA, and democrats. Proponents of the bill seem to be republicans, but I'm finding little support for the referendum online.

I'm a liberal, but that doesn't mean this issue doesn't appeal to me as someone who floated through the rather lackluster Utah public education system. Sometimes I wonder if I wouldn't be smarter now if I had had the opportunity to attend private school.

My bottom line philosophy is this: our education system here in Utah, and in America in general, is pathetic. I think we should take most of the money we are spending on this country's "defense" (aka "The Business of War") and shift those funds to (1) universal socialized health care for all citizens and (2) education. I think our guvment doesn't invest in these two essential needs because they like to keep the people uneducated and dependent upon the workforce for livelihood. It's a way to control the people, and just generally keep everyone down. That sounds really paranoid, but that's how I really feel.

So that's what I think should be done. But knowing that it won't, there has to be another way to address these issues, and in the case of education, the voucher system is a possible way to boost the quality of our education in Utah.

Here's the proponent position:
Vouchers give families who wouldn't normally be able to consider private school a choice between private and public. This is done by offsetting the cost of tuition from between $500-$3000 per year, according to the financial needs of the family. This will also include offering money to already wealthy families ($500, supposedly, although since the wealthy have the power, I could see them finding a way to get the $3,000).

And the opponent position:
Putting public funds into private schools is akin to using taxes to fund private business. We should instead invest in public schools, especially since 96% of Utah's students attend public schools.

I think there are some flaws in the opponent way of thinking. Namely, I don't believe you can draw a direct analogy between funding private businesses with public money and funding private schools with public money. For one thing, schooling is a service and an investment for the public in general. We all benefit if our people are better educated. Business on the other hand, generally only benefits the business owners.

I think public schools are worried that the vouchers will pull students out of public schools, and public schools will consequently lose the funding that they are allotted for those students. (The voucher bill supposedly will allow for public schools to still receive funds for students who switch for up to five years following the switch. So in essence, they will get money for students that do not attend their schools, and thus will be better funded in a per capita sense. Of course five years isn't a very long time.)

On the whole, I lean in favor of the vouchers, in the sense that I am in favor of bettering our education. But I don't understand the issue enough to know what is really going on .

I'd love to hear what anyone else thinks about the issue.

Update: After reading the Voter Information Packet, I began thinking that the money we would be spending on Tuition Vouchers wouldn’t really be increasing the amount of money spent on education in Utah. Instead, it would just be diverting some of the source of that money. The same amount of money would be spent on tuition, parents just wouldn’t have to foot as much of the bill (although they would still have to pay the bulk of it).

Now imagine if we took that same amount of taxpayer money that would fund this program and feed that into public schools. That WOULD be increasing the amount of money we are spending on education, and would thus be a much better way to spend our tax dollars IMO.

In the end, I feel that the whole voucher movement is motivated by rich people who already send their kids to private schools and who want a little rebate on some of that expense.

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