Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Some Thoughts About Vouchers

  1. No one really knows the effect that the voucher bills from this session (HB148, HB174) will have on public education. I suspect that it will have a negative effect, other think not. In reality only time, probably a long time, will tell. What we do know is that this is not the end. Senator Bramble stated, at a Republican Party Central Committee Meeting, that they were just trying to get their foot in the door, and now, they will attempt to pass incremental changes each year. I suspect that over time those changes will be detrimental to public education.
  2. There is tremendous pressure within the Utah Country Legislators to vote as a block. It is a bad thing when one strays. Hence the pressure put on Stephen Sandstrom to vote for vouchers, despite running a campaign where he promised people he would vote against vouchers. He even told constituents a couple of days before the voucher vote that he would be voting against it. Then after a town meeting, where he was enlightened and educated by Jim Ferrin, the former legislator whom he beat in the last election, he told at least one constituent that he had no choice but to vote for HB148, since he would be targeted by Parents for Choice during the next election if he did not.
  3. There is a perception that all or most Republicans are pro-voucher. That is absolutely not true. There are many Republicans that are not for vouchers.
  4. I have no problem with public money going to private businesses. Our government does it all the time. Anyone who doesn't think so is fooling themselves. I have worked for defense contractors most of my professional life, helping make technology to be used by our soldiers to keep American safe. This technology, and consequently my employment, is essentially provided through our taxes. Our local, state, and national government all use private contractors to obtain goods and services on our behalf. Here is the difference, however. In almost all of those cases, there is a very specific procurement process that the government has to follow to ensure that appropriate value is received for the money spent. It may not work the best in every case, but that process exists and is generally followed. It requires requests for proposals to be issued and bids to be collected and analyzed before the contract is awarded. Even then, there are processes to help ensure that a correct choice was made. Again, it doesn't always work well, and people, being people, are subject to making mistakes and acting unethically. The point is that there is a process that is to be followed when the government is using tax dollars to procure goods and services from private entities. THIS DOES NOT EXIST WITH THE VOUCHER PROGRAM. There is virtually no government oversight to ensure that our tax dollars are going to be appropriately used.
  5. One of the big differences between traditional public schools and private schools (and charter schools) is that private and charters schools can cap their enrollment, while traditional public schools can't. That means that charter and private schools can make very specific financial plans based on the exact numbers of students that they decide to accept. Public schools can't do that. They have to be able to support any child that resides in their boundary. To allow the public schools to plan better, and to minimize impact to the children of the parents who make the choice to have their children attend traditional public schools, it is my opinion that if parents make the choice to put their children in private schools, charter schools, or home schools, they should be required to stick with that choice for some minimum number of years. They shouldn't be able to put their children back in the public schools for some period of time. And they should be required to provide the public schools with some advance notification of their intentions to do that.
  6. There is nothing to stop private schools from raising their tuition rates by some amount that corresponds to the voucher credit. Don't be surprised if you see them raise their tuition incrementally over the next several years. This makes the voucher program mute, since it will do just the opposite of what was intended. That money won't help any family and will simply go straight to the school. It would be interesting for someone to track this and see if this actually happens.

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