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.