The Big One

November 2, 2007

So, there has been a ton of talk lately, (especially at work, for me), about Utah’s Referendum 1, and all this school voucher business.  For whatever reason, I have been really interested in hearing everyone’s views on the subject, so I thought I’d post hear to get some more responses. 

 For reference:

The Bill

 “Impartial Analysis”

I have read through most of the bill itself, but not the impartial analysis.  I have included it because I have heard elsewhere that it is pretty good.  Just to get things started, I lean in favor of the referendum.  I like that it creates more money per student in the public schools (at least for five years) and think there’s something to be said for creating competition.  I think there is a lot of misinformation about the negative impacts of the bill, but there are also lots of good arguments against it as well.

 Anyway, I’ve seen that this can become a hot button issue sometimes, so let’s keep things civil.  Just looking for some interesting conversation, not a grudge match. 🙂




  2. Okay just kidding. I just wanted to have a go at a grudge match. I will write my real feelings in a more mature and rational manner shortly. (but I mean, what I wrote is kinda true =P )

  3. One guy at my work was saying this. There are three kinds of people against referendum 1:

    1) People who run the teachers union
    2) School administrators
    3) Stupid people

    Thanks for starting the grudge match, Tracy. >:0

  4. I’m not a Utah citizen, so I can’t vote one way or the other, but to me it seems that the voucher system is one of those things that sounds good on paper, but in reality would create a lot of new problems. For one thing, the max voucher amount is only for a couple thousand dollars, while the average tuition amount is around 7 or 8 thousand dollars. So, vouchers will really only be available to middle and upper middle class families who already can afford to chip in the rest of the private tuition amount. Secondly, have you seen the kinds of curricula that some of these private schools have? Teaching science without one mention of evolution, teaching history as the story of inevitable Christian triumph over weaker peoples, categorizing literature as either Christian (The Bible) or pagan? If people want to teach this stuff to their children, fine, but I wouldn’t want my tax dollars to pay for it. Utah students are provincial enough as it is.

  5. Well, I have been told that the statistic about school tuitions is misleading. If you discount the two most expensive schools in the state, the average drops off radically. Most private schools are somewhere between 4-5 thousand.

    Also, personally, I find the argument that private schools offer an inferior curriculum uncompelling. Why would people want to spend thousands of dollars to send their children to a school that is worse than the free one?

  6. 1. I agree with Jaime’s main point. Not many low-income families will actually benefit from the vouchers, because they won’t be able to afford the difference. But even families that make over 150,000 can still get a 500 dollar voucher per child. So plenty of parents with their kids already in private school get a nice little discount, even though they don’t need it.
    2. More public tax money to private schools, where only a small fraction of residents benefit from it, seems unfair on many levels.
    3. Even if a student qualifies for a voucher, that doesn’t mean a private school is required to accept them. And many schools won’t take voucher kids, because doing so will require them to comply with certain state standards, which many private schools don’t want to do. That’s why they became private schools in the first place.
    4. With so few Utah students enrolled in private schools, and not a significant amount more to be sent there from the voucher program, this legislation will do little to increase competition and consequently quality in Utah public schools.
    5. There’s also good chance this would have negative effects on divisions between class and race in Utah. Boo to that.
    6. That’s all I’ve got so far but I might come back for more.

  7. Can I edit my post? I didn’t mean “make do little” in number 4. Just “do little”. Oops.

  8. Well, I don’t think people would be willing to spend thousands of dollars to send their kids to private schools if they thought private schools were worse. I think they sincerely believe private schools (at least, the ones that teach a Book of Mormon-centered education) are better. (The school I was referring to in particular in my last post was the American Heritage School in Spanish Fork. Google it and you can read about their curriculum.) I think that providing government support to those type of schools would essentially be compromising the separation of church and state. Plus, even if the parents don’t believe it, sending their children to those types of schools puts them at a disadvantage when competing with other students after they graduate. What serious university is going to accept a student that doesn’t believe in evolution (which is a scientifically observed phenomenon, even if the man-came-from-monkeys part of it is only theoretical)?

  9. Tracy:
    1) Kids who are already in private school are ineligible for the voucher. Also, the idea of this is that there will be more money per student in the public schools, and that’s the way it helps them.
    2) Again, the IDEA is that it will benefit all the residents, not just those that use vouchers.
    3) This is a very good criticism of the bill. It would be nice if the private schools had to accept all applicants.
    4) That’s a good point too.
    5) Hmmmm. I don’t know. Interesting.
    6) Neat.

    I don’t believe there is any university that queries applicants’ beliefs on evolution as part of the admissions process.

  10. Let’s have Nada chime in here.

  11. Well, I have to say that I’m pro-voucher with my husband. I was going to stay out of it all and was pretty mortified with the post, but I don’t want him to stand alone.
    This is a link to a harvard professor who studied the effect of voucher competition on public schools in the areas where it’s already implemented. They concluded that vouchers have a positive effect on student performance in existing public schools
    This is a summary of research on existing voucher systems. They conclude that vouchers save tax payers millions of dollars. They also suggest that there are aspects of government funding to education that are a base value and not provided to districts on a per student basis, meaning the amount of money the district gets is the same no matter how many students there are. This money spread across fewer students obviously creates more spending per student, and I imagine, wont be subject to this five year limit I hear about on fiscal benefits to the school district.
    There is already a supreme court ruling from 2002 which allows the use of government vouchers on schools with religious affiliation, so a voucher program in Utah does not compromise the separation of church and state any more than it already has been.
    Also, the first generation of voucher programs were implemented in inner city areas in Wisconsin and Ohio. Granted, these were significantly more generous vouchers than what Utah is considering, my point is, though, that historically, the voucher program has targeted lower income families and not excluded them. Apparently in Milwaukee, there have been movements to repeal the voucher system in every election, but they have always failed despite the fact that only 20% of students take advantage of the vouchers. This signifies to me that sure, the minority of students are taking advantage of the program, but the majority of voters are seeing the positive effects of the voucher programs whether directly or indirectly. AND, it’s a little simplistic to argue for or against the need for vouchers based upon income of the family. For example, Vouchers are good for special needs students that must attend a private school. A lot of special needs families, even if they’re well off, spend bank on special schools for their students with needs. I believe the vouchers would go to good use in these families. There are also students who for whatever reason fluorish in private schools because of the learning environment or more individualized attention but never get the chance.
    So there, don’t call me dumb.

  12. I don’t think you’re dumb, Tiff, and I don’t think you should be mortified about the post either. 🙂 I think it’s good to talk about these kinds of things, because (at least for me) it helps me form and modify my opinions, since I don’t know everything.

    I think I would be perfectly fine with having vouchers for children with special needs who need to attend schools that can teach them at their level. I might even be okay with vouchers if they were spent on good, non-religiously based private schools like the Meridian School in Provo, which teaches a liberal arts based curriculum. BUT I don’t think its a good idea to spend tax dollars to send children to private schools that teach a religious curriculum. I looked up the supreme court case you mentioned, Tiff, and even though they did approve vouchers for religiously affiliated schools, two planks of the constitutionality test they did in that case said that 1) the programs had to be neutral with respect to religion, and 2) students had to have sufficient non-religious options. I don’t see how the curriculum of a school like the American Heritage School could pass that test. I wish the supreme court hadn’t made that ruling at all, but historically, it’s not like they haven’t been wrong before.

    Also, to respond to Keck, even though colleges may not ask students such specific questions in their applications, admissions boards definitely take into consideration the ideological biases of a school’s curriculum. And there are just some basic things that educated people should know about (like evolution, among other things) that aren’t taught in all private schools for ideological reasons.

  13. I haven’t read the actual supreme court decision but the paper by the Harvard professor said that constitutionally, the voucher program cannot be designed so that a student who would prefer a secular school is induced to choose a religious one. I think that’s probably what is meant when they say the programs have to be neutral with respect to religion and students had to have sufficient non-religious options. I don’t think they’re referring to the schools themselves, they’re referring to the students choice of schools. It makes the program we’re considering constitutional precisely because a student can choose to go to the meridian school instead of the american heritage school in spanish fork.

    This voucher issue is a lot about student choice. I agree that it’s not smart to send a child to a place like the american heritage school, but it responds with an alternative to the increasing government pressure to remove religion in any form from public schools. I can see how a place like that could pop up in a particularly orthodox community and it gives students and parents a choice between religious or non-religious based education.

  14. Well, I am very strongly against the referendum, but I have decided not to try to sway anyone else, as most of the people I know are for it and I like to have friends. But I still hope it does not pass.

    But I am going to vote against it, and Brad, you have to do what I say, being my councilor and all, so, sorry about that.

    The one small argument I will make relates to item #3 in Tracy’s post and Brads response. Of course private schools should not have their policies dictated to them (like who they should accept) because then they wouldn’t be private schools. If I owned a private school, I would definitely not accept vouchers, because the government has a nasty habit of messing up nearly every system they get involved in regulating.

    Also, I think the market will respond in unpredictable ways and one of the long term effects of the vouchers will be a marked increase in the cost of tuition at schools that accept vouchers. Since when has there existed a segment of the US economy that failed to adjust its prices upwards when new money became available in the system.

  15. Well, Jeff, this might bring me a lot of ridicule, but I have to admit that we are not even registered to vote at this point, so I won’t be able to vote as you wish me to. 😛

    Interesting arguments. They are pretty different from what I hear most people saying who are against the bill.

    Oh, and thanks for piping up. Probably the main reason I posted about this was just to get some more thought provoking conversation going on here, and perhaps to get some new people to post. Mission accomplished! 😀

  16. A couple other points I want to bring up, dealing with possible outcomes of the referendum passing:
    – It’s easy to imagine that the families/parents of economically challenged students would be intimidated by the complicated and convoluted application process. As a result, children who could qualify for assistance continue attending public schools by default. Instead, the children of more wealthy and proactive parents succeed in getting private school funding, and flee public schools. Public school enrollment goes down, as does funding.
    – The private school market turns into a capitalistic mess. Think about how many “colleges” and vocational schools have materialized for the sole purpose of accepting students’ financial aid checks. Unaccredited schools with laughable admission policies charge outrageous tuition to students simply because they can get away with it – students don’t mind because it’s being paid for by government financial aid. Now opportunists can do the same thing with private elementary and high schools–claim to be the best, take a bunch of voucher money for a few years, then close up. I know this sounds cynical but if I could come up with that idea, I’m sure people who are a lot more money-hungry and deviant could too.
    – It seems to me that declines in the quality of public schools could be directly related to increases in private schools. If the most wealthy, active, concerned parents are pulling out of public schools for more expensive private schools, they can no longer be a force for change. By having their children in public schools, quality of the school system is driven up because of their demands. I don’t think public schools have the funding to be “competitive” in the market. The best incentive they have is to have the best parents involved in their schools.

    And possibly my biggest problem with the whole idea of the Referendum is that it seems to be an admission by legislators and lawmakers that a lot of Utah public schools are in crisis and not providing a quality education. Instead of then directly addressing that problem, they give people an “out” and try to make the problem work itself out by sending kids over to private schools. Why not focus more earnest effort on the public schools, provide more funding, demand higher standards, in the realm where the government could have a direct effect?

  17. -Are you referring to funding going down after five years?
    -I believe in capitalism.
    -This is one of the reasons that my friend Walter is so in favor of this bill. He has tried very hard to be involved in his kids’ local schools through participation in the PTA and whatnot. He has felt that he and other parents in his area are consistently pushed off on any ideas they have given the reasoning that those in the school administration know best about how to educate their children. He would love to be in an environment where parent input is actually considered and used.

    I think this directly affects the schools. I’m too busy to say more. Sorry.

  18. Today’s the day: ROCK THE VOTE! (but only if you’re against, please)

    I believe in capitalism too, Brad, just not opportunism. Not low-quality programs that take advantage of government funding. That’s what I meant.

  19. Ah, so what you MEANT to say was that the private school market turns into an opportunistic mess. 😛

  20. Well I just used the word capitalistic ambiguously–I meant it would be a mess of people trying to capitalize on the situation. Who is voting today?

  21. I’m voting today and I have really appreciated this post and all the wonderful comments that everyone made. It has really helped me in determining how I feel about the issue. Down with Referendum 1!

  22. SUCCESS!!!

  23. There was no success, only failure. The bill FAILED to get passed. 😛

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