The Missing Voucher Column (Referendum 1)

For some unknown reason, the column (“A Minute For Parents”, September 11, 2007) is not available on the Clipper website (all of Ms. Hamilton’s other columns are, however). So here’s her column:

Choice: A Fundamental Freedom

Choice is a fundamental freedom. In November you get to vote for or against the voucher system. I guess you have to decide if you want to be in charge of your children or if you want the Board of Education and the Utah Education Association in charge of your children’s school environment and education. Frankly, I have more confidence in you – not because public schools are not doing an excellent job in most instances, but because children don’t all fit into the same category.

I had a single mother friend whose oldest boy entered junior high in Davis County and started running with friends she did not approve of. She wisely pulled him out of the public school and put him into a private school. He stayed there two years and then when she put him back into the public school, he did just fine. I can’t imagine how she did it financially.

This parent saw a need and somehow scrounged up the money to solve it. In my opinion we need to vote for vouchers and allow parents to choose the most appropriate educational setting for each of their children. In the vast majority of cases parents will choose a public school. However, we all know children who march to a different drummer and need something that the public schools can’t provide, whether it be more discipline, a more challenging environment for high achievers, a new approach for low achievers or a way to get children away from the “wrong crowd,” whether that be drugs, gangs or for moral reasons.

I personally know educators in high places who are very much for the voucher program. A Utah State University study estimated that this arrangement would potentially save the state more than $1 billion over 13 years. That money could be used to increase public school spending and help fund the education of the 150,000+ new students projected to enter Utah’s schools in the next decade. Parents need to understand that even though a child attends a private school under the voucher system, about $2,500 will go to the public school allowing more funds for the school to use on the students who are there.

It is parents who have the primary right and responsibility to educate their children. It is constitutional. See Utah Constitution Article X, Section 2 where it says, “The public education system shall include all public elementary and secondary schools and such other schools and programs as the Legislature may designate.”

The number of children attending Utah charter schools has doubled nearly every year since 2002, and school enrollment will have grown from 537 students in 2001 to an estimated 20,000 in 2007, with thousands more on waiting lists. This shows parental desire for something different than the public schools can offer.

There is accountability in the voucher program. It is scaled as to household income and household size. Participating private schools must use testing, have teachers with specified education, disclose accreditation status and be audited. Money is given directly to the school and there are other regulations. It disturbs me when I read that this is not true.

Again, the school system offers a great education for a lot of students, and I believe they will continue to do so, but I believe concerned parents need other alternatives. In other states, the whole system improves when competition is a factor.

For more information see www.choiceineducation.org.

Kim Burningham, the state BOE chair recently responded to the column (you’ll note that his long response is available on the website) . For the most part, Burningham runs the same, tired arguments illustrated in “Nanny State Knows Best?“.

Burningham starts by saying that vouchers won’t help choice as no one will afford the private schools anyway. I bet the single mother illustrated above begs to differ as do many of us who’ve actually bothered to call private schools to inquire about their tuition rates. Burningham also makes a poor assumption that private and public educational facilities will remain static ignoring the law of supply and demand by also stating that there aren’t very many private schools. With demand, the supply will go up and tuition rates will decrease as supply increases. I find it very likely, that the supply will be naturally biased to those in low to middle incomes as they hold the greatest amount of funding opportunity for a private school and are the emerging market – the high income market has already been met (no new growth opportunity there).

Burningham also tries to hit the “accountability” argument by focusing on government programs/methods, again, indicating that he puts more weight on a bureaucrat/big company/third party analysis over the judgment of the child’s parent (see: “Voucher Accountability: The Best Auditor” and “Parents Know Their Children Best“).

On the lighter side, I found a couple of funny comments in his letter. First, is the argument that private schools will only take good, able bodied students and leave the physically challenged etc in the public schools. Maybe he should check out the Carson-Smith Scholarship which the “education union” opposed. Check out the “student eligibility requirements”, the voucher amount, and list of private schools. Note: Carson-Smith is taxpayer (NOT private) money. Carson-Smith was passed in early 2005. This also goes back to the supply and demand stuff I mentioned above. Second, I chuckled at his ‘limited enrollment slots” and “preferred children” (siblings) line. Charter Schools have limited enrollment slots and enrolled siblings make it much more likely that their siblings will be accepted. Schools also have limited slots for transferring students (but usually aren’t exceeded, I believe).

Ok. I’ll quit there, this is long enough. Again, the bottom line is parents will make the best decision for their child’s education and are the superior auditor.

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13 thoughts on “The Missing Voucher Column (Referendum 1)

  1. Well, there’s no income cap so I have to assume the richest Utahns will be entitled to collect the subsidy. Since nobody can send a student to a private school for $3,000 a year, the poor are not served.

  2. You may want to check out the pro voucher folks’ site. It describes the voucher system and it is a tiered system – ie the more you make, the less you get. Again, take a look at some of the posts here where the issue has been discussed.

    The 3000 was never intended to pay the full tuition, but make it affordable. Some schools will stay out of reach, but many many be within reach (call around). Also, your reaction assumes that the ‘private education market’ will not adjust to the new market (as stated above, the rich market is already taken care of and will have a negligible increase, if any). It will and will be heavily biased to cater to the $3,000 voucher holders.

  3. Rattler,

    Subsidies to private business entities never result in lower priced products in the subsidiezed industries. Usually conservatives are pretty quick to understand this point. I guess when you really believe in the industry being subsidized it is easy to assume simple rules from Econ 101 don’t apply.

  4. I disagree – the “subsidy” is not held by the producer (schools). It is held by the consumer (parents). You’re thinking of a situation where subsidies are held by the producer.

    Again, the power rests with the parents. The parents will choose whether or not it is worth using the voucher and which school to send their child (and voucher) to. The schools will have to compete to get the voucher. Again, this will result in a new market that the producer will have to compete for and the incentive to compete for those with the $3,000 voucher as that will be where the greatest number of new consumers will be.

    The result is greater parental control of what is the best educational fit for their children (and, yes, most of us will choose to stick with the public schools).

  5. Pingback: Pursuit of Liberty

  6. Rattler,

    What incentive would private schools have to lower their prices when government is subsidizing those who pay for schooling?

    Why is the private school market different than any other that gets money pumped into it artificially by the government? Of course prices are going to go up. Government is subsidizing the consumers so the producers can charge more and easily get it.

    Basic economics.

  7. You are still wrong and thinking in terms of a producer holding the money and a stagnant market. Remember, private schools have ZERO control on where the voucher goes. Parents have FULL control of the vouchers use (or non use).

    AT THIS TIME (pre voucher market): In general, mid-low income people can not afford private ed (no market opportunity here). The rich can and some do choose private ed. Private ed providers have met the market demand.

    Future (post vouchers): Mid-low incomes ($3,000 voucher) can afford private schools (except for the very high end stuff) – THIS is the new market. The rich get a minor sum ($500) that will have negligible/no effect as they already could afford the private ed schools but chose public schools (essentially this market is still met/saturated as indicated above).

    What I believe we will see is:

    1. New schools will open to cater to those holding $3,000 voucher (the new market)

    2. Current schools may modify tuition to take competitive advantage of the new market. Tuition may drop as economies of scale are created by the school(s).

    3. Current schools will not change tuition and parents will either be able to afford the tuition or the school will be satisfied with their niche market (ie not take advantage of the new market).

    Put another way: I have a disabled child and a $3,000 voucher. I’ve worked w/in the public schools (where the rest of my kids will remain) but it just hasn’t worked out for this child. A private school has a great program for their disability but charges $5,000 tuition. I could not afford that school before. Now I can, with some sacrifice.

    If the school raises their rate by 3K (to $8,000), I’m back to square one (can’t afford it) and they do not get anymore students (likely, they will loose some!). If the school wants to have access to the new market – they’ve just excluded themselves from it (as well as lost some of their pre-voucher clientele). Ouch.

    The school will remain at $5k (or lower it, if an economy of scale effect occurs) to gain access to my business (the new market). AND/OR a new school with a similar or better program may open with a lower tuition rate, allowing my voucher to go further.

    If the money and market opportunity are there, it will be met.

    Basic economics.

  8. Your vision for the future of private schools isn’t supported by what has historically occured when more money is given to consumers in the higher education market.

    Government has constantly provided more and more money to consumers year over year in the form of generous student loan terms or outright grants yet tuition continues to skyrocket in both private colleges/universities and state schools. Using the logic in your last comment cheaper schools would start up to take advantage of the money government is making available to consumers. Unfortunately reality doesn’t play much of a role in your scenario.

    Sorry…there are good arguments for vouchers but cheaper private schools isn’t one of them.

  9. Upon re reading your statment, I have one addition: Competition for the new market will drive prices. If school A & B have the same ‘program’ and both have excellent reviews, who will I choose if A charges $4500 while B runs $5200? How will this effect B over the long term? etc. etc.

  10. Apples and oranges comparison – we’re not talking higher ed here which taps into a much different market than ‘regular’ schools (you’re trying to compare vastly different markets and vastly different market forces). First of all, there is no alternate to higher ed tuition (other than not attending) whereas K-12 has a ‘free’ alternative – traditional public schools. Higher ed doesn’t have a ‘free’ higher ed factor. They just don’t compare. I don’t think that grants etc play much of a role in university tuition rate increases – other, much stronger, market forces are at play.

    What I also consider, however, is how many of those attaining grants/loans would not have gone on to higher education?…It seems these ‘vouchers’ have, indeed, helped create our highly skilled/educated and successful workforce.

    I strongly feel that same result will be seen here – kids who would have, otherwise, dropped out or given up etc will be granted the opportunity for a quality eduction meeting their needs and potential.

    It looks like we’re going to have to agree to disagree on the market stuff – I think we’ve beat the dead horse so bad that it is unrecognizable at this point.

  11. Pingback: Consolidated Voucher Post (Referendum 1)(Update) « Utah Rattler

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