It should have stopped surprising me by now how much of a siege mentality many public school educators and administrators have when it comes to school choice, but it still does surprise me, because I find it so irrational. Currently, a voucher proposal in the Utah Legislature has some public educators making all sorts of exaggerated and erroneous claims.
Vouchers are weapons employed in a strategic attack on our public institutions[!]
In a letter to the Deseret News editorial board on January 24, 2007, Heather Bennett and others challenge the benefits to society of school choice in the form of education vouchers.
Some of the complaints in the letter are that vouchers will:
- "do nothing to address underfunding of public school programs"
- not reduce class size
- "deepen social divides and leave taxpayers without a voice. ...Transportation and tuition costs will continue to discriminate, further dividing our community."
- "compromise the separation of church and state and violate the Utah State Constitution"
- Cause "students ...[to] suffer as a result of their plans"
The letter begins by saying
Salt Lake City School District supports both universal excellence and public school choice. We offer a variety of programs, philosophies, and instructional strategies. ... We are proud of our ability to use data to drive instruction, our menu of effective interventions, and the pathways we have built for advanced learners.
Apparently Heather Bennett and the others who signed her letter to the editor are some of the very few who disagree with the statement I just quoted. Those in favor of vouchers have most likely either formed no opinion of particular school districts' ability to provide educational excellence, or don't think that they are providing sub-standard education. They simply want more choice in the education of their children.
The facts are:
- Voucher programs go a great deal toward providing more money for public education. Every voucher program I've ever heard of does not take the full cost of educating a child out of the public school system. Even if private school students begin using vouchers, the eventual result will be more money to the public school system. There is no better time to move toward a voucher system than in a year of budget surplus which can be allocated to cover the shortfall of students already in private schools beginning to use vouchers.
- Because fewer students will be in the public schools, but more money will exist there per student, these moneys can be used to reduce class sizes AND increase teacher salaries.
- Transportation is a concern for less wealthy families, and would likely not be covered with the amount that a voucher provides. To say that this will divide the community is a bogeyman, however. If school choice vouchers divide a community, then there should be no school choice at all.
- The Utah Constitution says: "No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction." Even though this claim is the most substantial of any claims made against voucher programs, it is a red herring. Several other states with similar religious regulations in their constitutions have very successful and constitutional voucher programs.
- It is ironic that public educators think so little of themselves that they think those left in the public schools will suffer as a result of having to stay in public schools. I don't think that. I think those left over will actually benefit through smaller class sizes and better teachers.
A current voucher proposal before the Utah Legislature clarifies and answers a lot of concerns and questions. Voucher programs in other states have helped to cause the following improvements:
- Parents are more satisfied with private schools because private schools exhibit more accountability to students. They also are required to follow numerous health and safety regulations.
- Vouchers improve student satisfaction with their educational experience, which generally results in improved student educational performance.
- Voucher programs provide substantial additional money-per-student to the public school system.
- Public schools increase their ability to educate as they compete with private schools.
So, please put the drawbridge back down. We are not your enemies. We are your friends. We are all working together to build the same community.