The Chair of the State Board of Education has been making the political rounds with an op-ed printed (verbatim) in Utah newspapers ranging from the Salt Lake Tribune to the Provo Daily Herald. The op-eds are a preemptive strike on tuition voucher/credit legislation.
Here are my responses to Mr. Burningham’s issues (note: I currently have a child in public ed and am very satisfied with the teacher and education at this time):
1. Vouchers detract from a quality uniform public school system as public/parental “support for quality education would become diffused as educational opportunities are fragmented.”
That is a total falsehood.
The fact that significant numbers of parents (and the public) are concerned about the quality of the Utah public ed is the driving force behind giving parents greater options to pick the best school for their child.
Overall school quality, both private and public, should improve. First, a small element of competition will be introduced pushing both entities to perform better. Second, relating to my first point, schools will actually end up with more money per student (or possibly for teacher salaries etc) – every proposal only takes about half (or less) of the funds attached to the student while leaving the other half (or more) with the school and one less student (a net gain).
Additionally, pulling a small percentage of students from public schools will also take some of the ‘edge’ off the upcoming burden of large increases in students entering the system over the next decade. By even taking just 10-15% of students to private education, school districts (and the state) will likely save millions (likely in the hundreds of millions) in infrastructure costs (don’t have to build as many schools, etc etc) alone.
The only thing that will be diffused is public ed.’s and teacher union’s monopoly on education. Although this will also likely not change much as most will still choose to place their children in public schools.
2. “Legal opinions and common sense reading of the State Constitution” show anything pulling funds from public schools is unconstitutional.
There is a debate on this going on right now. From my “common sense” reading, I think it’s doable. Legal opinions, both pro and con, are out there debating this as well. Ultimately, Mr. Burningham’ side can cite their legal folks, but so too have the parental choice folks. There is no weight to the argument.
3. No oversight on the funds distributed nor the results achieved.
Again, that is false. Parents will have the ultimate oversight which will be much more effective than the run of the mill audit over large budgets/programs school districts are subject to. Rather than an audit on a general category once every ‘x’ years, parents will provide a continual, student-specific audit. If they aren’t satisfied or something is amiss, the student and money walk (immediate feedback with a consequence).
Further, legislators have complained that school districts either refuse to or are very reluctant to account for funds which have been appropriated for equipment- or project-specific expenditures (examples include using funds to by sports gear instead of computers). Apparently, there is some loophole that allow the schools to do so. Hopefully, legislators will address this.
Frankly, I don’t think that a public school official should tout oversight much at this time. Two school districts ‘oversight’ has resulted in two criminal cases (here and here) both of which were in operation for several years and totaled millions of dollars. A legislator has now called for an audit of all school districts. Two school districts were also taken to court due to closed door meetings which may have violated state open meeting laws (here and here).
4. Parents will send their kids (and vouchers/public funds) to nutty schools (“…marginal or extreme political, social, and religious…”) resulting in a dramatic increase in these whacko schools.
This is a red herring. The vast majority of parents using the proposed system will evaluate schools based on the educational and social qualities that best fit their child and the family.
I’m sure Mr. Burningham is referring to the secretive polygamous societies particularly in southern UT and northern AZ. Guess what, they’re already secretive and providing their own ‘instruction’. While I don’t have detailed information about these communities, I do know that local law enforcement (public funds) was compromised by society members (ie they were/are the law enforcement) and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if their children were/are using public schools where teachers are also society members. I would bet that most of these societies already have their own schools so there wouldn’t be an increase anyway.
There are very few nuts in society. Yes some may have great enough numbers to set up their own school but not very many at all will have this capacity.
Ultimately, it comes down to who you trust. Government bureaucrats implementing policy set in Washington DC and from local politically correct processes? The NEA endorsed and linked local teachers union? Or do you trust parents to do what is right for the future of their children?
Do we need the nanny state to tell us how our children are to be educated or do we decide that?
5. The system will only help the rich and schools will be poor.
This is the biggest red herring and it infuriates me. It is class warfare bait.
I make a middle to lower-middle income. It would be very difficult to send my child to a private school. For the rich, tax credits, vouchers, etc are moot. Rich folks will send their children to whichever school they want (most still choose public schools) regardless of any such legislation. However, poor and middle income people basically don’t have that choice. Further, ‘the rich’ get much less than lower incomes. Tax credits etc would make private schools a possibility, they would be an equalizer.
If Mr. Burningham were really concerned about fairness for all classes, he would support vouchers.
In terms of the ‘poor schools’, that too is false. Again, a chunk of appropriated money will be left with the school even though they no longer have the student. Also, here is a some information on the increased funding schools will be getting this year.
He may also be referring to public schools being ‘stuck’ with handicapped, learning disabled, or behavioral problem students. That too is garbage. A couple of years ago, the legislature approved the Carson-Smith bill which would allow autistic children access to a voucher for private schools providing specialized education. The teachers union (and the usual suspects) opposed it. If there is a sufficient need, all of the above classes of students would have access to specialized schools, more capable to serve their needs. Additionally, since ‘rich’ people already have a choice to send their kids to private schools and don’t, I doubt much will change.
Finally, with the project increase in the student population, the relatively small percentage of students taking advantage of a credit/voucher program will save millions in school infrastructure and maintenance costs.