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Utah Legislature Passes (Near-)Universal School Choice,

though with a scholarship amount that is likely to pay only for part of the tuition, and an amount that declines dramatically with the parents' income. The governor is apparently expected to sign it; here's a summary of the bill:

Student Eligibility:

All Utah students are eligible if they meet any one of the following criteria: 1) they are in public school, 2) they are entering kindergarten, 3) they have moved into the state in the previous year, or 4) they have family incomes at or below the eligibility level for free and reduced lunch programs. In effect, this means that the only Utah students not eligible are those from high-income families who are already in private schools. Students cannot receive vouchers under both this program and the Carson Smith voucher program for disabled students at the same time; students who qualify for both may choose which voucher to receive.

Voucher Value:

The dollar value of the voucher runs on a sliding scale from $500 per student (for high-income families) to $3,000 (for low-income families). This graphic from the Salt Lake Tribune shows the income scale.

Regulations:

Participating private schools must be located in Utah; must have a CPA review its finances upon entering the program and every four years thereafter; must comply with health, safety, and antidiscrimination laws; must administer a norm-referenced test and make results available to parents; must make aggregate test results for participants publicly available (consistent with student confidentiality); must employ teachers with college degrees or equivalent specialized training; and must have at least 40 students and not be located in a residence or state treatment facility.

Public School Funds:

When a student uses a voucher, that student's public school district will continue to be funded as though that student were still attending school in that district until five years after the student left or when the student would have graduated, whichever comes first. During that time, a portion of the funding designated for that student will be returned to the state's Uniform School Fund, and the remainder will be retained by the school district.

I generally — though tentatively, given that my view is based mostly on general principles rather than serious review of the research — support school choice, so I think this is a good plan, even if less ambitious than I would have liked. But more importantly it should prove an important experiment that may give some guidance for future plans (though I recognize that the results of such experiments are often hard to measure).

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Education Week Online Survey on Utah School Choice Plan:
  2. Utah Legislature Passes (Near-)Universal School Choice,
Jeremy T:
This is wonderful news. If only some other states would say no to the educrats and try something that might actually work.
2.9.2007 7:19pm
zock:
Nice tactic with the funding phase-out clause. The public schools maintain their yearly cash per child, without having to expend resources on the child, for up to a five year weaning period. Less kids in class, same amount of money available in year one, followed by with a predictable decline. A 10 year period might be better, but five works.

A great start. Why isn't this happening elsewhere?
2.9.2007 7:34pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
This seems like a particularly regressive version of the idea (assuming my hunch about the price of a year's private school tuition being much higher than 3k is correct): people on the very margins of being able to afford private schools might do it, but otherwise it just amounts to giving a $500 tax break to the richest families. But the data won't show that, because the richest families that are in private school already won't be eligible, so there's zero way to test this hypothesis. (If the richest whose kids were already there were eligible, my guess would be confirmed by a mean income participating in the program much much higher than a mean income in the state.)

Second hunch: the schools where $3000 will actually pay the tuition are religious. Associated prediction: the ratio of religious private to secular private school attendance will be significantly higher among voucher kids than non-voucher kids (or equivalently, all kids in the post-voucher system than the kids in the pre-voucher system), and this difference will increase as you move down the economic scale. This one will be eminently testable, and, hell, I may test it if nobody else does.

Unlike Eugene, I'm a little leery of school voucher proposals -- although less leery than I am of most libertarian proposals, because I can concieve of a way to do it without super-subsidizing religion or denuding the public schools (although both would be very hard and very expensive). But whatever that way is, it's not this. And this is a case study in the dangers of taking half measures.
2.9.2007 7:35pm
FantasiaWHT:
In general I like the idea, except for the failure of the public funding money "following" the students. Essentially, the taxpayers are going to be paying twice for every child that switches to a private school with a voucher. That's particularly damaging when the cost to taxpayers to send a child to public school is significantly higher than the cost to send a child to a private school (even if the entire private school tuition was paid for, not just $3,000)

I would be interested in seeing numbers on private school tuitions in Utah. The private school I taught at in Wisconsin was the cheapest in the Milwaukee area, and the per-student spending was around $8,000, half of which was funded from the organization's endowment and half of which was the responsibility of the student. Milwaukee has a very healthy choice program, so a choice student at the school I taught at cost taxpayers about $4,000 - 1/3rd of what MPS spends on a student
2.9.2007 7:45pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Well, you have to start somewhere, and this is a decent start. Yes, I think it counterproductive to let the public schools keep money for students who have moved to private schools. And, hopefully, if this works, then in the future this can be eliminated.

What must be remembered here is that public school unions invariably pull out all the stops whenever anything even having a whiff of vouchers is put before the people anywhere in the country. My understanding was that this snuck through on the slimmest of margins (one vote in one house). But maybe, just maybe, this indicates a slight breach in the monopoly that the public teachers' unions have over government funding of education. We shall see.
2.9.2007 7:54pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
Clearly, the issue here is how much does private school tuition cost? I like this program, but hope it is adequately funded.

As to Bruce's comment, the reason to not defund schools immediately that lose students immediately is to prevent any drastic budget problems. Not all costs that schools face are variable. Some are fixed. Sometimes by contract and sometimes due to physical constraints (A building that used to accomodate 1000 students but now accomodates 800 probably costs the same amount in janitorial services, heating, electricity, etc. Given reduced staffing needs, giving employees time to transition is also a valid consideration.) It makes sense to give schools some transition time to reduce their fixed costs.

Defunding schools immediately would be completely impractical.
2.9.2007 8:18pm
TomHynes (mail):
Excellent news.

I like the five year transition plan to make it palatable to the districts. Five years from now, I am going to exercise more and eat less. Really. But I might need another year extension. Just one more year.
2.9.2007 10:37pm
Cold Warrior:
I like school choice. I like the idea of vouchers.

I don't understand why you don't qualify if you're already sending your kids to private school.

Maybe you're not rich. Maybe you're already sacrificing something others have -- a new car, a bigger house, a family trip to Disney World -- in order to send your kids to a private school right now. And because you've made those sacrifices, you will forever be ineligible for a voucher unless you subject your kids to a year in public school, followed by a transfer back to the private school.

This is bad policy.

And let me be the first (and surely not the last) to say it: you can enter the United States illegally, settle in Utah, and immediately be entitled to the voucher. But if you've sacrificed in other ways to give your kids the best possible education, you will be punished and forced to continue to pay their full tuitions, plus the costs of public education for the kids who entered illegally, plus the voucher costs for those kids.

This is bad policy.
2.9.2007 11:01pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I don't have kids. I gladly pay taxes, and would pay higher taxes, to pay for a for quality public education for all children. However, I don't want a penny of my tax dollars diverted to pay for private education for anyone's children. Public education is a social responsibility borne by all taxpayers. If you choose not to take advantage of that benefit, then you should not expect a rebate or help from the government anymore than I should expect a rebate on my taxes because I don't have children.
2.9.2007 11:22pm
Hans Gruber:
Paul Gowder,

$3,000 is too low, but may be closer to the actual cost of education than you may realize; I think private education could easily educate pupils at around $5,000 per pupil (I believe public school average is around $7,000k, but they have greater costs, especially given special needs students). So let's say that it costs $5,000 to educate a child in a well-run private school; that's still 60% of the cost.

OK, I couldn't help myself and I did a quick search. In 2001-2002 Utah spent an average of $4,674 per pupil. Let's say the average today is $5,000. Private schools can produce at lower cost for a variety reasons; to take but one, they do not have to provide the same speciality programs as do public schools. So I wouldn't be suprised if a quality private school education could be obtained in Utah for between $3,000 and $4,000.

Cold Warrior,

The eligibility for illegal alien children is an effort to say on the right side of the law (Plyler v. Doe, I believe). Of course they didn't have to exclude those that already send their children to private school, which I agree is bad policy.
2.9.2007 11:35pm
Hans Gruber:
" However, I don't want a penny of my tax dollars diverted to pay for private education for anyone's children. Public education is a social responsibility borne by all taxpayers."

Why insist on looking at it in this way? Funding education, sure. But why can't the public fund education via private schools? Suprisingly, the more vouchers catch on the more we are bound to spend on education. Not because private education costs more, to the contrary it will be more efficient, but because parents will be able to "spend" their voucher on a quality school they will demand more to spend. Today, it's hard to see where extra money for education goes--it doesn't seem to go anywhere or accomplish anything--but when parents have control over where and how that money is spent, well, then you will see an outcry for greater funding of education.
2.9.2007 11:43pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
I don't have kids. I gladly pay taxes, and would pay higher taxes, to pay for a for quality public education for all children. However, I don't want a penny of my tax dollars diverted to pay for private education for anyone's children. Public education is a social responsibility borne by all taxpayers. If you choose not to take advantage of that benefit, then you should not expect a rebate or help from the government anymore than I should expect a rebate on my taxes because I don't have children.
You're confused; this is still public education. It's just not public schools.

Do you oppose Medicare because private doctors are providing the medical care? Do you oppose food stamps because private grocery stores are providing the food? Do you oppose Pell Grants because private universities are providing the education? Do you oppose HUD Section 8 vouchers because private landlords are providing the residences? So why would you oppose school vouchers because private teachers are providing the education?
2.10.2007 12:20am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Not because private education costs more, to the contrary it will be more efficient, but because parents will be able to "spend" their voucher on a quality school they will demand more to spend.

Where is there any evidence that private education is more efficient? And once you give vouchers (some of it is my money btw) to parents to spend as they see fit, then where does my right to have a say in how my tax dollars are spent go? I lose interest in funding education and become more selfish, ultimately leading to an overall decrease in education funding. After all why should I give money to you if I have no control over how it is spent?
2.10.2007 12:20am
Cold Warrior:
Hans Gruber:

You raise a good point about Plyler v. Doe. I don't think it would apply here -- after all, access to public school education would be guaranteed regardless, and that's what Plyler is about -- but I can understand that the Utah legislature didn't want to open this can of worms right now.
2.10.2007 12:21am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Vouchers, or close equivalents like this, still suffer from the problem of what to do with the worst/most expensive students.

For instance special education students, kids with learning disabilities and others who need special attention cost more than the average student to educate. If we let parents choose their own schools we run the risk of having the most expensive and worst students left behind in the public schools while the others move on to private schools. This risks leaving the public schools as underfunded and occupied by the trouble kids and children whose parents don't care enough to send them elsewhere.

You might try to require all schools receiving the funds to have facilities for special ed and problem students but this would interfere with many small schools and it is still likely that some of the worst children come from families who won't care enough to pick an alternative school. The fact that this bill says it won't take the money away from the student's initial district is irrelevant as it effectively amounts to an increase in education funding meaning the right comparison is between this program and the conventional system funded at the greater level.

I'm unconvinced that this is a net negative. One of the biggest factors in the quality of a school is the quality of the students and by separating the better kids from the problem children one may reap great benefits. Furthermore, I worry that there is too much emphasis on equality in our schools now anyway. Like it or not investment in the smartest and most studious students has a far higher rate of return for society. So maybe the provision leaving the funds at their original school is actually counterproductive.

--

Still I have one reservation that would need to be addressed before i could support such a system. Given the likely deterioration of the public schools (just b/c they are the default school if no other reason) it is essential that families not be forced to choose between unwanted religious education and poor schools.

I think this could be solved by requiring that any religious schools receiving funds segregated their religious instruction into distinct classes or times during the day and allow students of other faiths to attend and opt out during these times. Proper curriculum standards could ensure that the other subjects taught during the day would not be overlaid with religious commentary.

In other words religious schools could work just like the catholic schools work now. At least the catholic school i went to and others I've heard of teach math, science and history just like any other school and then had religion class that the few non-catholic kids could sit out.
2.10.2007 12:40am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
JF Thomas,

Where is the evidence that public schools are more efficent? Either seems a priori possible so it seems to make sense to at least give private schools a try. Let some states try this out gather the data and see. Personally, I think school choice (private or not) has the potential to offer substantial benefits by allowing the more studious and smarter students to be grouped together and avoid being dragged down by those who are less interested in school.

Your argument about your 'right' to see where your tax money is spent is fallacious. The same argument would show that we couldn't contract out road building, development of military aircraft, or allow the government to purchase anything from private industry. If the goverment can use your tax dollars to hire someone to repair the roads why can't they do so to educate children?

In fact this argument cuts against your point. Clearly the majority has elected representatives who choose to spend the tax dollars in this fashion. Surely your minority objection to how they choose to spend them can't undermine their right to have their say in how taxes are spent.
2.10.2007 12:50am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I think that the argument for government supplied public education rests on the unwarranted assumption that the goverrnment can supply any good or service well and efficiently.

On the one hand, private education has price and profit as a regulator. If the service is not provided efficiently and well, the provider doesn't make any money, etc.

So, what is driving government supplied education to doing it well and efficiently? Well, the first problem is that there is no common definition of what the mission of a government school is. Should it be to teach the three Rs? Computer literacy? Diversity? Tolerance? Sex education? Drug prevention? Taking care of the disabled? Providing accelerated learning for the gifted? Music? Art? Athletics? Or, the unstated one, of providing a nice living and early retirement for those working there?

Since this is government supplied education, all are typically missions and priorities. But because it is the government providing it, it is susceptable to all the problems of any governmentally provided good or service. For example, the group that screams the loudest gets heard. Thus, while most parents would likely prefer their kids spending their time learning the read, write, and do arithmetic, the Gay community can scream load enough that these schools have to teach tolerance, etc. of a gay lifestyle. So, you have a bunch of constituancies, and the louder they scream, and the more concentrated their scream, the more they are listened to - regardless of how many consumers of the service here really care about this goal. I think that there is a technical/economic term for this problem.

The other related problem is that because there are so many conflicting goals and missions, government supplied education cannot be held accountable for failing to meet any one of them. Kids aren't learning to read and write? BFD, at least they learned how to put on a condom.

So, in the end, you end up with a situation where government education is being run for the benefit of those working there. You have teachers' unions that make sure that their members can't be fired for not teaching, that their members only work less than 9 months a year, and get to retire in their early 50s. In short, you have the schools being run primarily for the benefit of the teachers and administrators. Why? Because they are the ones ultimately balancing the goals and missions, and their own self-interest is always first. As you would expect under Adam Smith and Milton Friedman.

In short, government supplied K-12 education cannot work well, and the longer it lasts, the worse it does. It does a barely tolerable job at meeting most of its stated goals, at a hugely wasteful price.

BTW, I am one of those who puts his money where his mouth is in this area. Sure, quality private education can cost a lot of money. But it is worth it.
2.10.2007 2:17am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Vouchers, or close equivalents like this, still suffer from the problem of what to do with the worst/most expensive students.

For instance special education students, kids with learning disabilities and others who need special attention cost more than the average student to educate. If we let parents choose their own schools we run the risk of having the most expensive and worst students left behind in the public schools while the others move on to private schools. This risks leaving the public schools as underfunded and occupied by the trouble kids and children whose parents don't care enough to send them elsewhere.
In other words, you are suggesting that it is a good thing to divert a significant amount per capita from education of the masses to taking care of the disabled, etc. While this is noble (and we do need to do something there), I would suggest that we would do better if this weren't a hidden cross-subsidization.
You might try to require all schools receiving the funds to have facilities for special ed and problem students but this would interfere with many small schools and it is still likely that some of the worst children come from families who won't care enough to pick an alternative school. The fact that this bill says it won't take the money away from the student's initial district is irrelevant as it effectively amounts to an increase in education funding meaning the right comparison is between this program and the conventional system funded at the greater level.
In other words, should we force the private schools to do the same sort of under the table cross-subsidization that the government run ones have to do right now.

If taking care of the diabled are an issue, then address it, and don't push it under the carpet and expect public education to handle it.
I'm unconvinced that this is a net negative. One of the biggest factors in the quality of a school is the quality of the students and by separating the better kids from the problem children one may reap great benefits. Furthermore, I worry that there is too much emphasis on equality in our schools now anyway. Like it or not investment in the smartest and most studious students has a far higher rate of return for society. So maybe the provision leaving the funds at their original school is actually counterproductive.
That is, BTW, one of the real benefits of a private school - in the better ones, you have the best and brightest competing against each other. And, they get to get pushed. A lot.
Still I have one reservation that would need to be addressed before i could support such a system. Given the likely deterioration of the public schools (just b/c they are the default school if no other reason) it is essential that families not be forced to choose between unwanted religious education and poor schools.
The problem there is that in government run schools everything is massively cross-subsidized. The result is that actual education is exceedingly expensive for what you get. If the money being spent per pupil were available to the parents to pick their schools of choice, then this wouldn't be an issue. But of course, even when you have vouchers, the government schools manage to keep a big chunk of that money for what are now non-existant students. In Utah there, less than half of the money being spent per pupil will be going to the private schools, and that is typical. Get rid of that, and your worry about quality non-religious education for the amount of money provided will evaporate.
I think this could be solved by requiring that any religious schools receiving funds segregated their religious instruction into distinct classes or times during the day and allow students of other faiths to attend and opt out during these times. Proper curriculum standards could ensure that the other subjects taught during the day would not be overlaid with religious commentary.
In other words, you are suggesting government intrustion into private education, which negates a lot of the reasons for vouchers in the first place. The answer is that if your kids are going to a religious school for a religion that you don't adhear to, and they are getting too much of it, then transfer. Voting with your feet is much more effective than siccing the government inspectors in on it. Next thing you know, they are going to also be mandating sex education at Catholic schools (not only teaching about birth control, but also abortions, gay sex, etc.)
In other words religious schools could work just like the catholic schools work now. At least the catholic school i went to and others I've heard of teach math, science and history just like any other school and then had religion class that the few non-catholic kids could sit out.
When you were talking religious schools, that was what I thought you were talking about. I do know non-Catholics in Catholic HS, and they are exempted from religious studies.
2.10.2007 2:37am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Where is there any evidence that private education is more efficient? And once you give vouchers (some of it is my money btw) to parents to spend as they see fit, then where does my right to have a say in how my tax dollars are spent go? I lose interest in funding education and become more selfish, ultimately leading to an overall decrease in education funding. After all why should I give money to you if I have no control over how it is spent?
And you get a say right now how? Did you vote on union contracts, less than nine months of school a year, and retirement after 30 years? Or teaching that gay sex is equivalent to straight sex, and both are apparently superior to abstinence? That teaching about diversity is more important than arithmetic? That all civilizations and societies are equal, except for ours, which is inferior?

At best, you might be able to effectively argue that you have some small bit of control over the total amount of money being spent on public education. Beyond that, you have effectively near zero control.

And, more importantly, the parents have little more control over how the money is being spent on their kids in public school than you do. You are almost suggesting that it is more important that you have your 5% control over their kids' education than that they have more than 5% control over it. It is somewhat akin to the problem of communism - when you get equality of results, then everyone is equally badly off. You are happy with a low level of control over kids education, as long as no one has any more control, regardless of whose kids they are.

And I don't understand the ethical argument that since some of the money is yours, it is good to stick the kids in crime infested underperforming public schools, since they aren't your kids.
2.10.2007 2:49am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Finally, as to whether private school is more efficient than government education - it can't be less efficient.

Let's do a bit of reality check here. Let's take an average class of, say, 30, and multiply that by the per student cost of government supplied schooling - say $7,500 per student per (very short) year. Multiplying that together gets you $225,000 per year per class. If you pay the teacher $50k, and add in benefits, you get $75k, leaving $50k. Finding comparable classroom facilities would probably cost less than $2k per month on the open market (esp. given the quality of many of the physical plant for many of the schools out there). That brings us down to about $125,000 per year. One administrator per ten classes (actually low for private schools - one per 15 or 20 is more usual, plus they also often teach a class or two), plus school secretary, with benefits might run another $100k, divided by the 10 classes, gives you still about half the original amount of money being spent.

Where does it go? Partly, because it is a government run institution, a lot of it is just flushed down the toilet. But as importantly, there is massive hidden cross-subsidization going on. Part of the $7,500 that should be going to your kid's education is instead being used to take care of the disabled kid down the hall, who actually costs maybe $25k a year. And then there is the football team. And the diversity counseler. And the sex ed teacher. Metal detectors and extra administrators because kids who have no interest in school are forced to show up there anyway. The list goes on and on.
2.10.2007 3:10am
microtherion (mail):
If school vouchers are such a great idea, why can't I get a defense voucher?
2.10.2007 3:16am
markm (mail):
Microtherion: Defense is fundamentally geographically-based. If your property winds up on the front line, it cannot be effectively defended by a force that is not cooperating with the defenders on either side - although what you really should hope for is a unified force holding the line far from your property.

There's no such geographical limitation to schools, except where the population density is so low that the travel time to alternate schools becomes unreasonable - and I think that only a few percent of Americans live in such areas.
2.10.2007 7:53am
ambrose (mail):
This note is directed to the parent of a child choosing between public and private schools. If your child is above average or has learning disabilities, the choice is public schools. The above average child has a richer choice of activities. Private schools, being smaller, teach to the average student. For the learning disabiled, the private school will either not accept the student or will be prohibitively expensive, $14,000 per year and up. If your child is an average learner, that is the type of child that will benefit the most from a private school. Remember the private school teaches to the average student as it must being smaller and with fewer resources. If your child is gifted in a specialized way, athletics, debate, drama, the fine arts, etc. a public school is probably the best choice since the private school probably doesn't offer a program anyway. Don't expect to find a good private school for less than $10,000 per year plus transportation costs. You may find a cheaper one, but since they are not accredited, there is probably a reason. If you are not of the religion of the school being studied, don't accept the argument that your child can opt out of religion classes, peer pressure will take care of that. One reason churches are willing to subsidize theses schools and allow outsiders is to gain converts. Don't let the uniforms in private school bother you. They are cheaper to buy than the clothes worn in most public schools. I think one reason private schools require them is to prevent the students from using clothes to create status. The parents of some of these kids are really rich, but most aren't. If you cann't afford the uniform, then you need to spend your money on things more important than private school. Lest you think I am biased against against private school, I've had six kids. The three oldest went to public school and the three youngest go to private schools. The reason, I have more money now so I do not need to consider it when making a decision, but still it was a close one. If you are interested how the first three did, one was killed by a drunk driver when eighteen, his sister is an executive with an airframe manufacturing company, and the third is a finance executive who is organizing a bank. Of the private school kids, one is a CPA and the other two are still in school. If you want more information go to http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2002/2002025_Analyses.pdf for a comparison of private and public schools. The raw numbers on standardized tests seem to favor private schools, but when adjusted for parents income level and education, the results are similar.
2.10.2007 8:53am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Part of the $7,500 that should be going to your kid's education is instead being used to take care of the disabled kid down the hall, who actually costs maybe $25k a year.

Oh, so now we have no responsibility to educate the disabled kid down the hall. Then why on earth do I have a responsibility to pay a penny, through my taxes, to pay for the education of your kids? Especially when you want them to learn nonsense like homosexuality or is wrong or that abstinence until marriage is normal and desirable. If you want to send your kids to private school, absolutely nobody is stopping you. But if you want that choice subsidized by the government or want to take money out of the public schools to help pay for it, forget it. That is not your private bank account.
2.10.2007 9:36am
David M. Nieporent (www):
If school vouchers are such a great idea, why can't I get a defense voucher?
Because education is a private good and defense is a public good (as that latter term is used in economics, not politics. (In politics, it just means, "Something I think everyone should have and want the government to provide."))
2.10.2007 12:36pm
Hans Gruber:
J.F. Thomas,

Very few would argue whether we should be educating disabled children; many would argue we spend too much with too little to show for it.

Just with respect to societal benefit, that money would be better served in boosting gifted and talented programs (or even the quality of the average classroom). Imagine I give you $10,000 to spend on any one child's education with the goal of maximizing societal benefit. Do you spend that money on a future Einstein or a child with an IQ of 60? Education's focus, instead, is on "not leaving any children behind," instead of the more sensible focus of fulfilling each child's potential.

Sadly, some children's potential does not exceed the bar of what we deem to be "satisfactory" and thus "not left behind." Pouring tens of thousands of per pupil dollars behind these learners isn't going to appreciably impact the amount of learning they are capable of, but it does understandably make their parents happy (who doesn't want the very best for their child?).
2.10.2007 3:14pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Because education is a private good and defense is a public good

Education is every bit a public good as defense. Furthermore, considering the complexity and intelligence needed to design, build, and operate modern weapons systems, education is a public good necessary for an adequate defense.
2.10.2007 6:04pm
Elliot Reed:
On the one hand, private education has price and profit as a regulator. If the service is not provided efficiently and well, the provider doesn't make any money, etc.
This isn't quite right. Leaving aside problems of school quality measurement, we have a major fiduciary problem here. Parents should be expected to pick the school that's best for the parent, not best for the child. So we'd expect parents to send their kids to schools that teach their kids ideologically-driven lies about, for example, science and human sexuality, or that focus on inculcating an ideology the parents support.

Government is hardly immune from the temptation to provide ideologically-driven education either, but it is at least subject to the balance of competing forces. No such check exists on the unbridled discretion of parents.
2.10.2007 7:40pm
FormerUTstudent@FormerUTstudent.com:
The Salt Lake County private school my parents enrolled me in was around 3,200 a year in the mid-to-late 90s (and we weren't the cheapest, but far from the most expensive). It was a religious (protestant) school. My parents paid full tuition, whereas a substantial portion (maybe 20% or more) of the student body received discounted tuition because their parents worked at or for the school. So, 3k is not completely off base.

I'm not sure I understand Paul Gowden's concern. Maybe that's because it was Utah... Cottonwood High (public) has an LDS seminary building 20 feet away from the edge of its parking lot and provides free periods for students who want to go to it. I think the reason my parents sent me to my school was the fact that it offered the most cost-effective alternative to the mormon morass. But, I also don't understand what would be wrong with the results of his hunch even outside Utah's bizarre little world. Religious or not, the private schools, expensive or not, on average place more students in top tier schools than the publics on average.

As a final note, I want to thank that odd behive of a state for giving me free season passes to the Canyons for having a GPA better than 3.3. That reallllly made me want to go to class. Now THATS a subsidy.
2.11.2007 12:05am
N. Trout:
Bruce Hayden,

I appreciate your reasoning (and agree with the principle that some school costs could be reduced), but I still think you are underestimating costs. First of all, schools don't get paid $7,500 per kid. Instead, revenue is based upon average daily attendance. In other words, you might have 30 kids in a class but the only way you're going to net $225,000 is if all 30 kids have perfect attendance the entire year. So you can probably chop $23,000 off the top if you assume a 90% attendance rate. Then, there are a bunch of other costs for which those 30 kids will need to pay a portion (besides just the administrator, secretary, and rent) that you left out: payroll and accounting staff, school counselor (and/or psychologist), janitor, school nurse, books and supplies (textbooks run close to $50 each!), copy machine, school bus (lease, gas, maintenance, and insurance), school bus driver, school insurance (liability, etc.), field trips, substitute teachers, staff training... It adds up quickly. I definitely don't think $7,500 is a bounty. Just something to think about.
2.11.2007 3:05am
NotALegalEagle:
You're confused; this is still public education. It's just not public schools.


It's not public education until every student who would be eligible for public school enrollment is allowed in the private school of their choice.

Vouchers are just subsidies for the rich and upper-middle class. No one in West Valley City is going to be sending their children to a Sandy private school because of this. This is not enabling those who most need assistance to get better opportunities.
2.11.2007 1:46pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Education is every bit a public good as defense. Furthermore, considering the complexity and intelligence needed to design, build, and operate modern weapons systems, education is a public good necessary for an adequate defense.
As I suspected, you simply don't know what "public good" means. It doesn't mean "something which benefits the public."
2.11.2007 3:29pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Paul Gowder was correct in his initial hunches. Vouchers are pretty much necessarily a direct subsidy to religious schools. Non-religious private schools generally charge much more than the $1-3,000/year that vouchers provide. Typically, only religious schools do that, and they can only do that because they have considerable subsidies from churches.

For those claiming that it can or does cost much less to educate students, please check out all the failed private sector attempts to do so, and note that in the Cleveland case the Supreme Court heard, literally almost all the kids getting vouchers were using them for parochial schools. And that's the way it will be in Utah.

This usually brings out the "well maybe, but public schools are so awful we have to do something" response. First, public schools are much better than the stereotypes conservative/libertarians have of them. After adjusting for the types of students they get, public schools do as good or better a job of educating students as charter schools or parochial schools. And that's from Bush, jr. administration studies (indeed, the Bush admin. announced it was going to stop doing the charter/public comparison studies after last year's study didn't show the superiority of charter scholls that the Bush admin. wanted it to show.

Second, there are some failing public schools, but there are a variety of other things -- yes, including better funding -- we can do about them short of subsidizing religious and other unaccountable schools with public tax dollars.

Finally, while I know teachers' unions are the bete noir of conservatives and the libertian right (DAMN those kindergarten teachers!), before anyone starts on them, please note that studies repeatedly show that, after adjusting for type of student, students in schools with a unionized teaching force to better on standardized tests and have higher graduation rates than students in schools with non-unionized teaching forces.

Vouchers are pushed most heavily by parochial schools because they are the institutions that benefit from them. Others should look at the actual effect of voucher programs without ideological blinders on.
2.11.2007 3:33pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
It's not public education until every student who would be eligible for public school enrollment is allowed in the private school of their choice.
Every student who's eligible for public school enrollment under the current system isn't allowed into the public school of his choice -- so does that mean we don't currently have public education?
Vouchers are just subsidies for the rich and upper-middle class.
It's their money in the first place, so it's rather odd to call it a "subsidy" to let them use some of their own money.
No one in West Valley City is going to be sending their children to a Sandy private school because of this. This is not enabling those who most need assistance to get better opportunities.
I don't know what "West Valley City" and "Sandy" are, although I can guess from context. No, it won't pay the full ride for someone to go to the most expensive private schools. That hardly means it won't help people get better opportunities.


This isn't quite right. Leaving aside problems of school quality measurement, we have a major fiduciary problem here. Parents should be expected to pick the school that's best for the parent, not best for the child. So we'd expect parents to send their kids to schools that teach their kids ideologically-driven lies about, for example, science and human sexuality, or that focus on inculcating an ideology the parents support.

Government is hardly immune from the temptation to provide ideologically-driven education either, but it is at least subject to the balance of competing forces. No such check exists on the unbridled discretion of parents.
No check at all exists on the discretion of the schools. It's beyond absurd to think that educrats have a stronger interest in a good education for the kids than parents do. The former get paid the same whether the kid passes or fails. (Actually, if the kid actually flunks out, they might lose money, which gives us social promotion.)
2.11.2007 3:36pm
zock:

Elliot Reed states:
No such check exists on the unbridled discretion of parents.


And thankfully parents still have some discretion.

"The child is not the mere creature of the state",
Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 535 (1925).
2.11.2007 4:28pm
Cold Warrior:
FormerUTStudent said:


I'm not sure I understand Paul Gowden's concern. Maybe that's because it was Utah... Cottonwood High (public) has an LDS seminary building 20 feet away from the edge of its parking lot and provides free periods for students who want to go to it. I think the reason my parents sent me to my school was the fact that it offered the most cost-effective alternative to the mormon morass. But, I also don't understand what would be wrong with the results of his hunch even outside Utah's bizarre little world. Religious or not, the private schools, expensive or not, on average place more students in top tier schools than the publics on average.


I couldn't agree more.

I had a similar experience a decade earlier. My parents sent me to Catholic schools for the same reasons. And everyone understood that the private schools -- Catholic, Protestant, sectarian -- were better.

For a state that prizes its children more than anything else [true story: when I lived there, the Pioneer Day parade (commemorating the arrival of the Mormons) included a float with a banner reading, "Children, our Greatest Resource." They didn't mean it in a Julian Simon way], Utah public school performance is abysmal.

I arrived in a Utah public school (from one in the East Coast) in the middle of the 4th grade. The public school teacher would have us watch TV everday from about 9:00-10:30.

Oh, so you say, why is that so horrible? What's wrong with National Geographic TV or the Discovery Channel or Nova or even the Travel Channel?

We were watching Sesame Street.

In the 4th grade ...

It was so bad that a couple of the very few Jewish families in SLC sent their kids to our Catholic School. At least they were up-front and honest about the religious content, and academic standards (although still way, way below those of my eastern seaboard public school) weren't quite so shockingly bad.

So I don't know what to make of this. Ordinarily I'd say the voucher system is good, given the poor quality of the public schools in Utah. But it is Utah. And almost every social or educational program the LDS-dominated legislature dreams up in Utah seems to accrue to the benefit of the LDS Church.

Color me suspicious.
2.12.2007 12:01am
NotALegalEagle:
Every student who's eligible for public school enrollment under the current system isn't allowed into the public school of his choice...


You are correct. I would allow the same geographic restrictions as current public schools operate under.

It's their money in the first place, so it's rather odd to call it a "subsidy" to let them use some of their own money.


It is my money. As a Utah resident without children, I pay for their kids to go to school. Now I get to pay more for families that are getting by just fine to have it a little bit easier.
2.12.2007 12:17am
David M. Nieporent (www):
"Children, our Greatest Resource." They didn't mean it in a Julian Simon way],
There's an old Dilbert cartoon in which the pointy-haired boss says, "Remember how we always said that employees were our greatest resource? Turns out we were wrong: money is our greatest resource. Employees come in ninth." Wally says, "I hate to ask what came in eighth." The PH boss replies, "Carbon paper."

Okay, I don't have a point here, but I always think of that cartoon whenever I hear people described as a "resource."
2.12.2007 3:21am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
The best private school website is Private School Review which has a lot of info (and lots of ads).

Purely random Catholic K-8 school in Salt Lake County:

Regular Tuition $4,940 or $494 per month

Qualified Catholic Tuition (you have to be an active Catholic) $3,950 or $395 per month
2.12.2007 10:50am
Steve Urquhart (mail) (www):
I am the sponsor of the this bill. First off, what great commentary. Thank you.

A few facts. State and local money for public education in Utah equals $6,000 per student -- the lowest in the nation (because we have so many kids and also because most of our land is federally owned and, therefore, does not produce property tax revenues). After this voucher is paid (which will average $2,000), the remainder of the money stays with the district. This mitigation element was important to address arguments from a very strong union that the voucher would financially ruin public education.

Two years ago, we passed a voucher ($5,000) for special needs students. It was opposed, familiarly, as signaling the ruination of public education. However, of the 50,000 eligible students, only 300 use the special needs voucher for private school. This illustrates the strong public school support that exists with the public. 97% of Utah's school-age students attend public education currently. I'd be surprised if public school participation, even with my voucher bill, ever drops below 90%.
2.12.2007 11:34am
Cold Warrior:
Thank you, Steve Urquhart, for joining in the discussion.

Two questions:

1. The clause that precludes eligibility for the voucher for students currently in private schools -- was this done purely for fiscal purposes? Private school enrollment isn't terribly huge in Utah, and I suspect the bulk of private school students would've been subject to the income cap anyway.

2. Earlier I raised the question of children who are in the United States illegally. Will they be eligible for the voucher?
2.12.2007 2:28pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
"And everyone understood that the private schools -- Catholic, Protestant, sectarian -- were better."

This is probably true, but Utah public schools are nowhere near as bad as portrayed here. They compare quite well to other public schools and are exceptional when per capita spending is compared to results obtained. Per capita spending is low, but that's because there's lot of capita. Utah is a state with lots of kids.
2.12.2007 3:19pm
JosephSlater (mail):
"And everyone understood that the private schools -- Catholic, Protestant, sectarian -- were better."

While I know it's swimming upstream to contradict What Everyone Understands, but again, studies repeatedly show that, after adjusting for the type of student, this simply isn't true, especially re parochial schools and charter schools vs. public schools. Are tony private schools that charge $10,000 + per year generally better than public schools in poor areas? Sure. But vouchers don't do anything about that.
2.12.2007 3:46pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
I hasten to point out that Representative Urquhart's comment illustrates my point: whatever else $5,000.00 pays for, it certainly doesn't pay for the education of a disabled child.
2.13.2007 2:26am