By Senator Mike Dmitrich
Senate Minority Leader
Senate District 27
Due to the recent Utah Supreme Court ruling regarding HB148–Education Vouchers (subject of the referendum vote in November), the public will have a straight up or down vote on a universal voucher program for the state of Utah. The Court ruled that a second bill, HB174, Education Voucher Amendments, is inadequate for enacting a voucher program on its own.
On behalf of the Utah Senate Democrats, I applaud the efforts of many groups and individuals for their professional conduct in exercising their constitutional right to bring this issue before the people. We express our thanks to the UEA, PTA, Utahns for Public Schools, the Utah State Board of Education (chaired by Kim Burningham), the Utah State Office of Education attorneys, the 131,000 signers of the petition, and all others who worked tirelessly to arrive at this juncture.
As posted previously on our blog, the Senate and House Democrats oppose vouchers. Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, House Minority Leader Ralph Becker and I wrote two letters to Governor Huntsman asking him to call a special session to resolve the confusion created by this phenomenon of circumstances. The Supreme Court ruling has now eliminated the need for a special session, and obviously, we hope the voters overturn the voucher law passed by the Legislature.
Vouchers are not a “bureaucrat and liberal union” issue as has been cited by voucher proponents. Instead, the core issue is whether or not it is in the best interest of our public education system to subsidize private schools. In my opinion, the voucher law is blatantly unfair to Utah’s students, particularly those who reside in rural areas of the state.
The ballot language has been approved, along with arguments for and against vouchers, for publication in the Voter Information Pamphlet. I am very pleased with the argument against vouchers and believe it addresses all relevant concerns for the voters’ consideration. (Click “Read the rest of the entry” below for the complete argument against vouchers.)
Between now and November when the vote takes place, I urge the citizens of Utah to carefully consider the voucher issue and base their vote on a rational evaluation of the broader question: What course of action is best for the public education system in our state?
Argument Against the Voucher Program
(approved for publication in the Voter Information Pamphlet)
Vouchers are More About Subsidies and Less About Choice
Parents may choose to send their children to any public school in the local District without charge. They can also choose a private school. The issue isn’t about choice; it’s about whether taxpayers should subsidize existing private schools and encourage emergence of new subsidized private schools without adequate assurance of quality or accountability.
Utah’s Schools Deserve Continuing Support
Utah spends the least per pupil, yet Utah’s public schools are leaders in performance. Utah is in the top 10 in graduation and one of only 7 to receive an “A” grade in preparing students for college. Most Utahns want increased investment in what works in classrooms, quality teachers, smaller classes, and high expectations for all students. The last thing Utah’s schools need is a liberal subsidized entitlement program that competes for scarce resources.
Vouchers Will Cost Taxpayers and Injure Some Public Schools
Legislative Research projects that vouchers will cost Utah taxpayers $429 million over the next 13 years as the students in existing private schools qualify for the subsidy. This education money will not go to public schools. To the contrary, after five years, public school funding will be reduced to reflect transfers to private schools regardless of the ability of impacted schools to reduce fixed costs. Depending upon enrollment patterns, some public schools would simply have to do more with less.
Utah Shouldn’t be the Nation’s Guinea Pig
Voucher advocates are trumpeting Utah’s proposed law as the “nation’s first statewide universal voucher bill. Vouchers have been adopted only in a few states primarily for the benefit of the disadvantaged or those with special needs. Utah’s voucher bill contains no such limitation. It subsidizes persons with income exceeding $100,000. Utah, with its conservative values, should not lead the nation in this experiment in social engineering.
Vouchers Could Become Tools for Cultural Division
Voucher proponents foresee development of many and varied types of private schools. They share a common design to divide from the main stream. Private schools will naturally arise from perceived academic superiority, social or economic status, religious preferences, lifestyle or political philosophy, undesirable student mix, or a desire to be more exclusive. Such schools have always existed, but not at taxpayer expense. During the last half century, we have reduced segregation and enhanced equal opportunity in public schools. We should not embrace a system that could reverse what we have worked hard to achieve.
The Voucher Bill has Constitutional Problems
Utah has many excellent and valued parochial schools at every education level. They all depend on private funding. This is consistent with Utah’s unique history and its Constitution which expressly prohibits direct public funding of church-sponsored schools. House Bill 148 adopts a legally questionable scheme to funnel money to these schools. Vouchers are made payable to parents, but mailed directly to the parochial schools for deposit in their bank accounts. This invites a costly and divisive court battle.