Monday, October 15, 2007

Vouchers

Anybody that lives in Utah has probably heard about the brouhaha concerning school vouchers. The basic idea is that the government would offer a prorated voucher for parents that would like to take their students out of public schools and put them in a private school. The vouchers would range from $500 (for the rich) to $3,000 (for the poor) - which could possibly be enough to allow lower income families to have the same educational choices as families with higher incomes.

I never understood what all the voucher fuss was about - and until recently I didn't care whether vouchers were approved or denied. Basically my vote was up for sale, and it was almost purchased by the $3 million, out-of-state, teacher's union/voucher opponents. Then a couple of weeks ago, my dad e-mailed this editorial from the Standard Examiner and I saw school vouchers in a whole new light (You may have seen the pro-voucher commercial with the Oreos. This is where the idea originated). For more information on vouchers, see this website (pro) and this blog (against) and then decide for yourself. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Guest commentary: Why vouchers will make public schools better

Friday, September 28, 2007

By Richard Eyre
Guest commentary

I think there are two powerful and compelling reasons to support school vouchers.

Reason No. 1: smaller class size and more money per pupil in public schools.

We spend more than $7,000 in taxes per pupil per year in our public school system. Every time a family makes a decision to use a voucher to move a child out of a public school into a private school, the class size goes down and the amount of money for each of the students left goes up. I like to explain it with Oreo cookies: Say you have 30 little stacks of Oreos -- seven cookies in each stack -- representing a typical Utah class of 30 students and the $7,000 we spend on each of them each year. Now, let's say that the fairly wealthy parents of one of those students decides to take their $500 voucher (half a cookie, which is the size of the smallest voucher) and send that child to a private school. The class size drops to 29, and the six and a half cookies that the departing student left behind are still in that classroom, to spend on more books or materials for the other 29 kids, or on more pay for the teacher. Now let's say that another family, a poorer one, also decides to use their $3,000 voucher (three cookies, which is the size of the largest voucher) to send their child to a private school where they think this particular child can get more of what he needs. The public school class size drops again, to 28, and four cookies ($4,000) stay behind in the public school to be spent on improving that public school classroom.

Think about that! Two fewer stacks of cookies -- two fewer kids in the classroom -- but 10-1/2 cookies to put on the 28 stacks that are left -- $10,500 extra dollars to spend on the kids who stay in that public school.

Now the teachers' union (whose job is, don't forget, to keep the status quo and protect the jobs of even the worst teachers) will try to create confusion about where that left over money will go. But the simple fact is, the public schools will have more money per pupil every time a family uses a voucher and moves a child out.

Reason No. 2: more options, choices, and involvement for parents.

I see myself as an advocate for parents and families. I believe, passionately, that parents are the stewards over their children, and that they know, far better than a bureaucratic school system or a teachers' union, what is best for each of their kids. What vouchers do is give parents the decision about where their kids go to school, and the option to try to find the education that each individual child needs. The vast majority of parents will just leave their kids where they are, in the public schools, just like Linda and I did with all of our kids. But when a child needs something that may not be available in the public school, or when a child has a teacher he can't relate to or learn from, vouchers give parents another option!

Wealthy parents already have the private option, but poorer families do not. With a $3,000 voucher, a lower-income parent becomes a customer, who can shop around and find what they think is best for their child. The average cost of private schools in Utah (if you take out the two highest-cost schools in the state) is $3,800, so the voucher brings the option within reach. And even thinking about the possibility, and having the option, will make the parent more involved, and if he or she chooses to leave their child in the public school (which most will do) they are likely to be more interested and involved in that public school. Vouchers will create more demand for more private school options, and areas where there are no private schools will likely have those options in the future.

Now, the teachers' union will say most parents don't care, especially poor parents, or won't do anything. I find that offensive. I believe in parents and in how much they care about their kids.

And if they don't do anything or won't get involved, then the union has nothing to fear, so why are they fighting vouchers so ferociously? They are fighting it because they fear competition, innovation, and the kind of creativity that always comes when you give people a market and let them choose. That is why the National Education Association is shoving $3 million into Utah to try to defeat vouchers.

Good teachers and good parents need to pull together. If parents and teachers get the facts, vouchers will pass on Nov. 6. If the teachers' union succeeds in covering the facts with smokescreens and fear tactics, vouchers will fail, and Utah will go on, as it has for so many years, as the last-place state in per-pupil spending, with the least competition and the largest class sizes

2 comments:

Al said...

I'm still undecided, but I'm leaning toward voting no just because everyone's big argument for vouchers is that it will lower class sizes, but nobody knows what will happen. In fact it could actually increase class sizes (see the link to the blog against vouchers).

tysqui said...

The unfortunate thing about the vouchers issue is that neither side is being fully honest with the public in their advertisements. Nobody really knows whether or not class sizes will increase or decrease. The biggest reason that I like the idea is that it gives parents a choice - especially those parents that could not previously afford to choose.