Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Vouchers -- Attorney General says "Voucher Vote Will Not Effect Program"

Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has issued the Attorney General's opinion on whether HB 174 would be sufficient to keep the voucher plan in force if HB 148 is voted down through referendum. It seems that HB 174 will keep the voucher program active with or without HB 148. I'm not sure what this will mean regarding a possible voucher vote, a few days ago in a SLTrib article the Governor eluded that he would honor the result of a referendum induced vote with a qualifier regarding the opinion of Attorney General Shurtleff. With a voucher affirming opinion in hand, I wonder if the Governor's commitment to the will of the voters will waiver.

I had found an article that I wanted to introduce that presented some very logical arguments against vouchers made by Emily at Utah Amicus. Emily brought up very strong points about availability and cost effectiveness of voucher schools around the state:

"Vouchers are promoted as the solution to overcrowded schools. To relieve this pressure, there would need to be enough affordable private schools in Utah to absorb the demand for private schools that voucher supporters claim exists. But Utah doesn't enjoy a large number of private schools - let alone affordable ones.

A Google search of private schools in Utah shows Cedar City has exactly one private school listed on With 16 students (all from out of state) it is a school for "at risk youth." Under the voucher law a school must have at least 40 students to qualify and at least one of the student's parents must live in Utah.

In Washington County, five schools are listed. The majority of these schools are for "at risk teenagers" whose parents live out of the state. There is neither significant demand for private schools in our region nor much capacity to relieve pressure on the public school system.

Baker claims that with vouchers, private schools will be "affordable to all Utah parents." It is not clear whether vouchers will lower the price of a private education enough to entice parents away from public schools, especially when the majority of Utah parents are happy with them.

According to the National Association of Independent Schools, the median tuition for its member private schools is $14,000. The maximum a low-income family could expect to receive under Utah's voucher legislation is $3,000. Assuming Utah's few private schools could approach the national median tuition, it is hard to accept Baker's claim that all parents in Utah could afford to send their children to a private school even if they wanted to."

I appreciate her points, (a) given that vouchers will be given only to students whose families are on the lower end of the income spectrum, a large number of those who are the intended beneficiaries of vouchers scholarships may still be priced out of private schools. (b) Even if private schools were affordable, Utah's established private schools likely don't have the capacity to accept enough voucher students to make a substantial dent in large class sizes. This is very true, as Emily stated regarding Washington county, there are a handful and a majority are schools for at-risk teens which (as I understand HB148) may not be qualifying vouchers schools due to this line in HB 148:

(3) The following are not eligible to enroll scholarship students:

186 (c) a residential treatment facility licensed by the state.

If this is true there is likely at no more than a couple of voucher eligible schools in Washington county, and none of these schools have a capacity large enough to accept more than a few hundred voucher receiving students.

Anyways, I haven't shifted my opinion regarding Utah's voucher law. Despite these arguments against vouchers, I think the problem of available seats in eligible private schools will be an issue only in the short-run and that many private schools will take on expansion to provide a greater number of available seats. I feel that although the price of private schools may be high for those receiving voucher scholarships, it is better to have the power given to taxpaying parents to have control over how their tax dollars are used to educate their children. Anti-voucher advocates argue that school choice has always existed, which is only a half truth. People have always been allowed to determine whether they would educate their children in public or private schools, but there has never been access to their tax dollars as funding to send their children to their schools of choice.

Thanks Emily, for providing some fresh reasonable arguments (fresh to me at least).


steve u. said...

When the Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Legislation passed in 2006 there was one private school for autistic children. In response to the Carson Smith vouchers, there now are 3 private schools for autistic children.

And the same groups that oppose HB 148 opposed the Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarships.

steve u. said...

Oops. That should be 2005, not 2006.