“Perhaps we should find out what voucher plan would do”
Oct 31, 2007 | 3561 views | 0 0 comments | 86 86 recommendations | email to a friend | print
by Al Clarke

Principal, Navajo Mountain High School

No doubt many wonderful people who live in our neighborhoods and attend our churches with us belong to the National Education Association. Most do a creditable or better job of teaching school in their various assignments. Many do put in a lot of extra hours helping kids. Most know their subjects and their students quite well.

Nobody “abhors” schoolteachers. They are often experts in certain fields. It’s just that most of them I have met pay their NEA dues, among other reasons, to let the union handle the politics.

Among our friends and neighbors who teach, the vast majority of political knowledge is little more than NEA talking points. Further, most have a scant knowledge of the education system above their own level of operation, or of the political processes that govern it. This makes them pretty typical Americans, not bad people, and certainly not experts in the political and financial aspects of education.

And how is it you know that persons and organizations of national consequence have not attempted to influence the campaign? The NEA certainly would have.

The other claimed opponents you dismiss out-of-hand are long-time foes of such measures. It would not surprise anyone to get some national attention besides the NEA on this ballot measure. Happens all the time. In fact, I read where one state’s U. S. Senate candidate got 80 percent of his funding from out of state, according to his own financial reports.

Take an honest look at vouchers, according to this proposal:

1. A voucher consists of from $500 to $3000, depending on family size and income. Above a certain income, a family of four with over $70,000 income is only eligible for $500 assistance per child. This is hardly “fat cat” income.

2. The ad claims that $429 million would be pulled out of public school funds over 13 years starting with next year’s kindergarten at about $5.5 million, and by 13 years the amount is up to $70 million. Two missing pieces of information go with this: First, let’s assume the truth of 96 percent of Utah children attend public school. The $429 million averaged over 13 years is only 1 percent of the 2004 Utah budget for K-12 education. Let the 4 percent have 1 percent of the money is not unreasonable financially. Second, this is not money that would come out of funds currently allocated to schools. It comes from the general fund.

3. Schools get to keep for five years large portions of per-student funds for students in their enrollment areas who attend private schools. Keep the money, somebody else deals with the student. Reduces class sizes. That doesn’t help public schools? In fact, the state analysts predict that school districts will save $2.4 to $11.5 million dollars in the program’s first year.

4. No accountability? Read your voter awareness pamphlet. There are six points listed, but private schools traditionally have other things they do. Also, being a school of choice in a (hopefully one day) free market of educational opportunities, private schools end up being more accountable to parents.

5. Opponents portray the voucher program in terms of class warfare, “tax breaks for the rich,” etc. The amounts of money available to “the rich” are relatively negligible or non-existent, so “the fat cat” doesn’t really have a dog in this fight. The voucher amounts don’t usually cover the whole cost of a private school, but they put the remaining costs in the range the working person can afford for his family. Vouchers are not, as you have been sold, a raid by the rich on the state treasury. Vouchers are Joe Six-Pack’s ticket for his kids into a private school.

We are not a county full of wealthy people. We have a substantial number of home school students. Could a reasonable voucher program result in the establishment of several private schools in communities in San Juan County? Perhaps. Perhaps we should find out.

The public interest in private schools is that they may develop new models for delivering education that will improve the cost efficiency and quality of public schools. I have survived numerous attempts at “education reform” which have illustrated to me the relative resistance of our entire education system, including the NEA, to the development of new models of education. Private schools, if encouraged to take a bigger role, may yet show the way.

Read the proposal. Consider how it has been crafted to create a tolerable situation for all concerned parties. Consider that you may one day need to send your children to a private school, though I hope that never happens. Will there be one for your kids?

Don’t be bullied by the real “fat cat” here, the NEA, notwithstanding they have one vote in every 100 before the polls open. Vote for the School Voucher referendum, Referrendum #1, on 6 November.
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