Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Vouchers -- Thoughts on the New Approach the Legislature Should Take When they Pass Another Voucher Bill in a Few Years

I'm close to throwing in the towel on referendum one due to the abysmal way PCE has conducted the campaign to support vouchers. I can only do so much and reach so many people on my humble little blog. Now I do plan on completing the spreadsheet I have mentioned previously, and I do continue to write in support of Utah's voucher bill. However, Utahn's for Public Schools have ran a very visible, well-planned, efficient, and (judging from the visibility and efficiency) well-funded campaign, while Parent's for Choice has conducted a inefficient, visibility-lacking, possibly poorly-financed, and definitely poorly-managed campaign. I feel rather hopeless for the chances of Referendum 1's passage.

Given the relative hopelessness of the current situation, I thought I would convey a little advice should the Legislature decide to pass a repackaged voucher-type bill in the distant (or not so distant) future. The HB148-174 voucher bill had always faced one major challenge even if the referendum never came to the ballot and/or the referendum passed on Election Day -- separation between church and state. Arizona has a voucher plan that uses tax credits. Many voucher opponents feel this law was passed under false pretenses, although I don't know how anyone couldn't understand the law's intent given that the tax credit was issued only to private school students because they go to private schools. I digress. Given that the funds from the refundable credit are given first to the taxpaying parent, then to a School Tuition Organization (STO) than the STO awards the scholarship to the student at the private or religious institution of the student's choice. The tax credit was deemed constitutional during its only court challenge (Kotterman v. Killian -- Arizona Supreme Court). It appears that the main factor that made Arizona's tax credit survive judicial scrutiny it the buffer of the STO between the State of Arizona the taxpayer and the religious tuition-receiving educational institutions.

Utah's current voucher plan did not have any such buffer, and I would guess has (possibly had) a strong chance of being deemed unconstitutional.

However, tax credits are like blood in a shark tank to tax fraudsters, and such a plan would carry a heavier added cost of policing the plan to make sure abuse is limited. However, I believe a tax credit would have been a better engine for vouchers to overcome the hurdle of separation between church and state.


Jesse Harris said...

I share your frustration with how badly the whole process has been bungled by supposedly pro-voucher forces. I'm holding off on the postmortem until after the vote, but I definitely think this bill has a lot of room for improvement.

Anonymous said...

Utahns will shoot down Referendum 1 by a huge margin, at least 60-40.

Voucher opponents will target charter schools in the next two legislative sessions and will probably successfully stop charter school growth.

True education reform is dead in Utah. In its place, we'll hear about smaller school districts, more professional development for teachers, and a host of other feel-good proposals that will do absolutely nothing to improve education. They'll make it sound like it's real education reform by passing tax increases as well.

If you want real education reform, move to another state. The undertaker is already measuring the coffin in Utah.

Lyall said...

Constitutional Issues:

I recently spoke with a fellow, Clint Bolick, who specializes in defending voucher laws. He said that Utah's education provisions are some of the easiest to defend constitutionally as any he's seen and that the way that Utah's voucher law is structured is constitutional. BTW, Clint was the lead attorney in the landmark school voucher case, Zellman v. Miller that opened the door for vouchers even to religious schools.

The crux of the argument centers on two areas: a)"direct" support of a particular sect/denomination, which Utah's law stipulates that the parents are the recipients of the voucher therefore establishing only an indirect benefit as defined by the courts, both in Utah and the US supreme court and b)the Education clause in the Utah constitution is a Blaine amendment (there are 47 other states with similar types of amendments), which the US supreme court has considered to have originated or have its roots in anti-catholic (or any other non protestant sect) bias and is therefore discriminatory in theory and in practice, making such provisions most irrelevant with regard to voucher programs where some public money may indirectly go toward a church sponsored school.

In short, I think the utah voucher law will easily pass constitutional muster.

my two cents...