Guest Editorial: Vouchers, Why I Voted no
It now appears that vouchers will have to stand the ultimate test - a vote of the people. Good for us. Such will be determinative of the issue notwithstanding the problem of the two bills and any legal opinions to the contrary. The Governor agrees. Courts should agree. If push comes to shove, legislators will also likely agree by a wide margin. Most will recognize that this is not a game and that the will of the people cannot be disregarded. Here are 10 reasons why I voted against the legislation and remain of the view that it is not sound public policy:
1.Unconstitutional. Utah entered the Union under suspicion that religion would dominate public schools. The congressional enabling act of 1894 and the Utah Constitution of 1896 prohibited what the voucher bill now authorizes. The first Utah legislature could not have funded the parochial schools (mostly Mormon) then in existence. The Constitutional barrier remains unchanged.
2. Unlike Utah. Subsidization of private industry has never been Utah's style. If you want your own country club, fund it. Otherwise, play on the public courses. By a strange twist, the opponents of vouchers are being labeled as "liberals" with the subsidization proponents calling themselves "conservatives." They have it backwards.
3. Unequal Treatment. Vouchers are not available for students now enrolled in private schools. Consequently two neighbors living side-by-side who send their children to the same private school could be treated unequally. One may have children ages 1, 2, 3 and 4 while the other's children are ages 5, 6, 7 and 8. The latter will never qualify for a dime while the four children in the first family will be subsidized up to $3,000 each for a total of 13 years. The potential subsidy disparity - $156,000.
4. No Legislative Guaranty. Any restraint is only good until the next legislature convenes. The unequal treatment identified could become the springboard for accelerated funding of all 18,000 students now enrolled in private schools. The potential cost - a sobering $50 million. Moreover, the same logic used to justify $3,000 can as easily be employed to justify a higher amount. Why not? Partial subsidization does more to whet the appetite than to satisfy it.
5. Escape and Abandon. First and foremost vouchers are vehicles to escape from schools deemed unacceptable and not instruments for reformation and improvement. The transferring students will be those whose parents are more highly invested in their children's education. They naturally want to leave behind students with problems. If there is a significant student exodus, it will likely leave some schools worse than before. "Out of sight, out of mind" won't work for lawmakers or educators.
6. Unlevel Playing Field. Proponents envision a competitive free market in which "Producers would be free to enter or leave the industry and to compete for students." The model doesn't work for public schools because they are not free to enter or leave and necessarily retain constitutional and statutory duties of "universal education" with "no child left behind." The simple truth is that after the competition for students is over, public education will be left to pick up the pieces.
7. Stratification. The free market produces winners and losers. If you want a model, look at college football which produces teams which are ranked from 1 to 112. The formula is simple. You "high-grade" the talent pool and pump in extra money. The result is enormous disparity and stratification because the talent and resource distribution is so skewed.
8. A Platitude is Not Enough. Proponents seek to quell the troubled water and instill confidence with a high sounding platitude, "A rising tide lifts all boats." It is clever and soothing but camouflages the truth. A rising tide swamps some boats and lifts others unequally. Arguments to the contrary lie somewhere between sheer speculation and wishful thinking.
9. A Human Industry. Education is all about human beings. They constitute both the raw material and the finished product. The road to excellence in the industrial world is strewn with "bone-piles," bankruptcies and liquidation sales. Inferior components are freely rejected and discarded. Where in education is there room for bone-piles and liquidation sales?
10. A Venture into the Unknown. Utah does not have a "broken" education system. There is simply no way of predicting the ultimate composition of the system that will result from Utah's venture into the unknown and untested. The free market can produce great uncertainty and volatility. The precious commodities of our educational system deserve more.
[Rep. K. L. McIff, a Republican, serves Emery, Sanpete and Sevier Counties and is a former District Court Judge and member of the Utah State Board of Regents.]