Monday, April 23, 2007

Clearing the Air on Utah Education Vouchers

A couple of weekends ago my family and I traveled to southern Utah for an extended-family Easter celebration. It was extremely enjoyable. A fringe benefit of the weekend was for me to learn not only how many members of my extended family are public educators, but how they feel about the new education voucher law in Utah.

My mother retired a few years ago after several years as a public school teacher. She and I have discussed school choice in detail before, so I was not surprised that she is open-minded when it comes to school choice.

My sister has been reading previous weblog entries that I have done on education vouchers. She understands my point of view, and has shared them with several of her friends.

Others, however, I was not sure about.

I have come to understand a little bit more about their points of view as well. Some of them are concerned that interests from out of state have been involved in pushing Utah Education vouchers. This concerns me as well. This helps me understand why some educators and others are concerned that the new law might not be in the best interest of Utahns.

First of all, I think we can take care of our own concerns. But second of all, I think the new voucher law is at the same time very simple and very helpful. What I'm about to say may be "pie in the sky", but I think that legislators have no business accepting funding from anyone who is not their constituent. (We'll see if I can live up to that motto when (if) I run for state legislature.) Accepting funding from out-of-state entities only makes state political issues more confusing and the legislators who accept the monies less trustworthy.

Because of this wrinkle in the voucher debate, I now support a referendum on vouchers. If the referendum does not make the ballot, I support the law as it exists. If it does make the ballot, I hope it passes!

My aunts are both public school administrators, one of which is getting signatures on the referendum petition. I told her that I thought her involvement in the process was great, although I explained to her the reasons why I support education vouchers and how they will be not only not detrimental to public education, but actually a benefit.

My uncle, who recently retired as a high-school teacher/basketball coach, has already seen those benefits. He still maintains regular conversation with former teaching and coaching colleagues, and they are excited that with fewer students and more left-over education dollars, they can get the smaller class sizes and bigger salaries that we all think they are worth. My uncle says that it's only a matter of time before a great number of educators see this (and I think several other) benefit(s) accruing to public education from the voucher program.

My cousin is an elementary school principal, and is very involved politically. Because in addition he has a very strong opinion about a lot of things, I was a bit nervous to talk with him about vouchers. I could tell quickly, however, that he had done a lot of thinking about it. He could see the benefits. He could see that there was nothing for public education to be offended about regarding education vouchers.

As long as both sides work together and don't point fingers, he said, this will be a huge benefit to Utah's children.

6 comments:

  1. One correction: your cousin is an excellent elementary school principal. If the rest of the state would even partially copy his efforts with community and volunteer involvement, we'd be a lot better off.

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  2. You're right! He is. I agree with you completely!

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  3. Thanks for this post. I see no problem with letting the public vote on this issue.

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  4. I also don't mind if the issue goes to the public vote. I think that the facts line up for voucher proponents better than opponents for the most part and I think the public will see that.

    I doubt, however, that public school enrollment will decrease with vouchers. I suspect that any decreases in enrollment caused by parents using vouchers will be offset by natural growth of the school population.

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  5. I think you're right. As long as both sides are honest about the truth, then the facts line up better in favor of more educational choices. I also agree that vouchers will essentially cause a reduction in the increase of public school population growth, something that should be (and is to those who understand it) very welcome to public educators.

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  6. You are 100% correct to say that if Utahns understood the voucher program, most would vote for it. But I doubt most are going to learn the facts about it.

    I ran into several people gathering signatures against the program, and every time, they were saying any half-truth they could think of to get people to sign, and I'm confident that the teachers union will use those same tactics again to make sure people are misinformed on the referendum.

    California had a public initiative on vouchers back in the 90's. Before the campaign began, support for vouchers was about 50/50, but once the NEA's political machine got going (and spent over $2 million in the process, not including the thousands of man hours put in by public employees and union members), the voucher measure failed by a 40 point margin.

    Personally, I hope the referendum never comes to a vote because if it does, our schools will once again be turned to political machines. Flyers will be sent home with kids (as they were in the petition drive), parent-teacher conferences will once again turn to one on one campaigns, and the public school employees will use their state-funded infrastructure to organize their foot soldiers in support of the referendum.

    Not only that, but it will delay children from getting access to quality schools when they need it TODAY. Every month we spend delaying implementation is another month that thousands of kids are trapped in schools that don't work for them.

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