Letter to the Editor: School Vouchers
On Nov. 6, voters in Utah will vote for or against the implementation of HB 148, Education Vouchers, passed by the Legislature in February 2007. HB 148 establishes a voucher program to funnel taxpayer dollars to private schools. The amount of a voucher ranges from $500-$3,000, depending on family income and size. Families at every income level are eligible.
Choice is the nucleus of the voucher program. Parents can choose to send their child to a private school and use the voucher to offset the cost. In actuality, if the voucher law is implemented, parents will not be making the choice-private schools will be making the choice. Private schools will exercise their prerogative to accept or reject students according to their subjective criteria.
Fewer than half of Utah's counties have private schools in their communities. Rural legislators who voted for the voucher program have done a disservice to their constituency. Private school is not an option in their districts, and therefore, the voucher program is not applicable to rural Utah.
Prior to voting Nov. 6, please read the Impartial Analysis of Referendum 1 in the Voter Information Pamphlet. If you are a newspaper subscriber, you should have received a copy with your newspaper within the past two weeks. You should have also received one in the mail. If you do not have a copy of the pamphlet, they are available at public libraries and in all county offices. The entire pamphlet can be viewed online at http://www.utah.gov/ltgovernor (click on the red arrow at the upper left). You can also call Lt. Gov. Herbert's office at 801-538-1041, and one will be mailed to you.
During the first five years, the taxpayer will pay the cost of the voucher to the private school from the General Fund and a portion of the per-student state funding to the school district from the Uniform School Fund for each student who accepts a voucher. The Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel estimates the total cumulative General Fund cost to be $429 million just for the vouchers for years 1-13 (when the voucher program is fully implemented). A tax dollar is a tax dollar, and it is naÃ¯Â¿Â½ve to presume that citizens will feel no impact by funding vouchers from the General Fund. Voucher proponents erroneously assert that the implementation of vouchers will bring savings to our public schools. Read the Impartial Analysis carefully and you will see that costs will exceed savings.
Voucher proponents assert that the implementation of vouchers will reduce class size. There is no guarantee this will happen. Even though some students may leave the public school system, fixed costs remain unchanged. There are still buildings to construct and maintain, teachers and staff to pay, utilities to pay, supplies to purchase, etc. If enrollment decreases by a class size, a teacher may be terminated and the students redistributed among a fewer number of teachers-which may result in even larger class sizes.
A typical request for an appropriation of state funds entails a grueling process of accountability before, during, and after the monies are appropriated. I am wondering why taxpayers would vote to forego accountability for their tax dollars by giving a blank check to private schools where there will be essentially no oversight of monies spent.
The public school system is exactly that-education for the public-an opportunity for every school-age child to have a quality education. Utah is a public school state; 96 percent of Utah's children attend public school. The core issue is whether or not it is in the best interest of our public education system to subsidize private schools. In a state with the lowest per-pupil expenditure in the nation, it makes sense to spend our limited resources for the benefit of the 96 percent.