School Vouchers: "The Bramble Memo"

$429 million? What? Where?

The legislative fiscal analyst for the State of Utah calculated the costs to the public schools over the next 13 years if school vouchers are implemented. It said the costs would be $5.5M in the first year, and $71M in the 13th year. Suddenly, the number I have started seeing thrown around was $429 million, the total costs for vouchers over 13 years. Where did that number come from? Enter the mysterious "Bramble Memo".


In the past few days several of us (Jeremy, Utah Taxpayer, Craig, Sara, Urban Koda, Jesse, and me) have (sometimes?) enjoyed a lively discussion about school vouchers in Utah.

Jeremy clarified to me the costs of the venture by linking to a copy of the Utah Legislative Fiscal Analyst's Impartial Analysis (LFA) of the costs of Vouchers, found on "The Senate Site". In my previous voucher article, I quoted some of Lavar Webb's article from last Sunday's Deseret News, wherein he stated that those total costs are $429 million. Craig commented to my article that the LFA did estimate $429 million. It was just today that I looked back at the LFA on The Senate Site. It does NOT state the costs as $429 million--only that the costs would be $5.5 million in the first year and $71 million in the thirteenth year.


Craig also referred in the comments on my article to the "Bramble Memo", following comments by Utah Taxpayer about "Sen. Bramble's Request". This request is something that I had not seen before. I have since come by a copy of The Bramble Memo. (click on the image at right). That's where the $429 million is referred to. That's where Lavar Webb got his $1.8 billion number that I quoted in my previous post.

In the comments to the previous post, Craig said:

I have a copy of the Bramble memo (Frank I am happy to e-mail it to you if you'd like to see it). The press aren't using it because it is meaningless. Clearly, the $1.8 billion number is incompatible with the $429 million as it was calculated and requested for a specific purpose but it isn't relevant to the discussion.
I disagree with Craig--to an extent. (See why below.)

Near the bottom of the LFA Memo to Senator Bramble is this paragraph:

We have previously projected the nominal cost of the voucher program to state government over the same thirteen years for the same population of students to be approximately $429 million.

Adjusted for inflation, the real cost of vouchers to state government over thirteen years would be around $327 million. (Memorandum to Senator Pat Jones, February 9, 2007)

So it looks like $429 million came from the memo to Senator Jones. I can't find that on the internet, either.

But here's the interesting part. The Bramble memo also mentions the $1.8 billion. (I'm doing some super sleuthing here, aren't I?)
Per your request this office has estimated the cost of educating in public schools all who would qualify for a Parent Choice in Education scholarship over the next thirteen years at approximately $1.8 billion. Corrected for price inflation, we project that the real cost of educating in the public school system all those who would qualify for vouchers over the next 13 years would be on the order of $1.4 billion.
Now, let me draw your attention to a phrase from the $429 million paragraph:

...for the same population of students...

So the $1.8 billion and the $429 million are related. In other words, if "the same population of students" left the public schools, the State of Utah would save $1.8 billion, except for the nominal cost of vouchers, which is $429 million. So, Utah Taxpayer and Lavar Webb are right...sort of.

That makes Craig right, then, too.

The problem with the comparison is that the savings difference between the $1.8 billion and the $429 million ($1.371 billion) would accrue to the State of Utah under the LFA's scenario, but NOT, as it currently stands, to the Utah Public Schools.

This is a huge oversight that needs to be immediately corrected.

If the governor convened a legislative session before the November vote to get this correction written in stone, meaning that the "savings" monies were legally dedicated to the public schools, I think vouchers would be approved overwhelmingly by Utah voters.

Comments

  1. Frank,

    Thanks for the post. Let's try this one more time:

    There are other sources of information besides the "Bramble memo." The "Jones memo" did mention $429 million as the aggregate cost over 13 years. The Jones memo specifically requested information related to the analysis of the fiscal impact of HB148.

    Now...how does the Bramble memo factor in. IT DOESN'T!

    The Bramble memo had NOTHING whatsoever to do with the fiscal analysis of the bill. NOTHING AT ALL!

    Why? Because the Bramble memo answers a completely UNRELATED question that has NO relevance to the fiscal impact of the actual bill. The question it answered was "how much would it cost to educate all private school students over the next 13 years?"

    This question has NOTHING to do with the bill.

    Why? Because the ONLY time this question would be relevant is if ALL PRIVATE SCHOOLS WERE CLOSED AND ALL PRIVATE SCHOOL STUDENTS THEN HAD TO ATTEND PUBLIC SCHOOLS. That is the only time we would have to foot a $1.8 billion bill.

    This has absolutely no relevance to the discussion of the voucher bill. Zero. Zip. Nada.

    Let's all get on the same page here, people!

    The fact that $1.8 billion and $429 million show up on the same memo is irrelevant. They address different questions and were calculated for different purposes.

    Accordingly, there is no such thing as a $1.8 billion dollar savings or a $1.37 billion dollar savings.

    The ONLY savings obtained from the bill is from this scenario:

    1 - Public school student costs $X.
    2 - Public school student switches to a private school and is given a voucher of $Y.
    3 - Net savings = $X-$Y.

    So, let's take the UTA's number of $7500 for the cost (which includes EVERYTHING - facilities, staff, books, transportation, etc., etc.)

    So...

    X = $7500

    Then, let's take the average voucher amount as determined from the Legislative Fiscal Analyst. That amount is $2000.

    So...

    Y = $2000

    Therefore, the savings generated FOR SWITCHERS ONLY is $X-$Y = $7500-$2000=$5500.

    Are we in agreement so far?

    There are NO SAVINGS for existing private school students who become eligible for a voucher as the program is phased in. Why? Because we're currently paying $0 for them to attend private school!

    Are we all on the same page still?

    The COSTS are also clear. Besides administration, the bulk of the costs come in TWO flavors:

    COST 1 - PAY VOUCHERS FOR STUDENTS WHO NEVER INTENDED TO GO TO PUBLIC SCHOOLS. (VERY LARGE COST!!!)

    1 - Private school student who never attended public school becomes eligible for a voucher (adding one grade each year over 13 years - Kindergarten in 2007, K-1 in 2008...K-12 in the 13th year).

    2 - Taxpayers pay private school student an average of $2000.

    ********

    COST 2 - PAY VOUCHERS FOR SWITCHERS.

    1 - Public school student switches to a private school.

    2 - Taxpayers pay voucher for new private school student (average of $2000).

    These are the COSTS. It is impossible to save money by paying a voucher to a private school student for which we were previously paying ZERO. This COSTS money and saves NOTHING. Right?

    ********

    Now let's fix your interpretation of the phrase "same population of students." The fiscal analyst is simply saying that he used the same number and group of students to calculate both requests.

    Besides that, there is absolutely no relation between the two requests.

    None.

    Here's where your interpretation is incorrect: The overwhelming majority of that "same population of students" are those students who would have gone to private schools to begin with. Only a small percentage of those students are switchers.

    It's meaningless to calculate how much we MIGHT HAVE spent on these students in a public school since they were NEVER GOING to a public school. It's an expense we never would have incurred; therefore, is is meaningless to discuss. But, for some reason, Senator Bramble just had to know.

    To sum up, the cost to pay vouchers for the always-private students along with the switchers far exceeds the savings resulting from the switchers. That is what the impartial analysis says. It is clear as day.

    Lavar Webb, PCE, and UTA are leading a misinformation campaign. Fact. Plain and simple.

    The Bramble memo can be one of three things:

    1) An interesting bit of trivia.
    2) An honest question that, in the end, is completely irrelevant to the bill.
    3) A deliberate attempt to confuse the issue by introducing numbers that are completely meaningless.

    I won't speculate on what I think the answer is.

    ******

    Frank, with all due respect, I think your idea of calling a special session is noble but unfortunately your numbers are complete works of fiction. They just flat out don't exist. There is no such thing as $1.8 billion in savings or $1.37 billion in savings!

    How can this possibly be made any clearer? If you find this confusing still, you are free to contact me directly. Send me an e-mail if you'd like to touch base.

    Thanks...Craig.

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  2. Craig,

    You say:


    This question has NOTHING to do with the bill.

    Why? Because the ONLY time this question would be relevant is if ALL PRIVATE SCHOOLS WERE CLOSED AND ALL PRIVATE SCHOOL STUDENTS THEN HAD TO ATTEND PUBLIC SCHOOLS. That is the only time we would have to foot a $1.8 billion bill.


    Ah, but it does!

    Because if we can direct the same number of students as currently exist in the private schools away from the public system, then there would be an equal savings to the state ($1.8 Billion)-- except for the $429 million for the money that "the same population of students" would use in voucher money.

    So it may not be directly related, but it is at least indirectly related.

    The only thing left is to get the savings difference pledged to the public school system instead of it just coming back into the state's general coffers.

    Jeremy understood my explanation in my last post. And it makes all the more sense now that I've seen the Bramble memo.

    I'm not sure why you don't see it.

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  3. To answer another part of your comment:


    It's meaningless to calculate how much we MIGHT HAVE spent on these students in a public school since they were NEVER GOING to a public school. It's an expense we never would have incurred; therefore, is is meaningless to discuss.


    That is my entire point--we have to take into consideration THIS VERY POPULATION of students who never go to public school, and we can do it, because these students are ALL OF THOSE who use vouchers, including private school students.

    To hit the best case scenario, we would have to have 17,000 students elect to go to private instead of public schools. But under any circumstances, if the legislature earmarks the funds back to the public schools, it is a GIGANTIC win for the public schools. It is also important to remember that EACH private school student ALREADY SAVED THE STATE $5,500 JUST THIS YEAR. If the legislature approves what I'm suggesting, even THOSE increments of $5,500 would be put back into the public schools.

    So like I said before, if the legislature promises to pay the difference saved between public school costs and the voucher costs (FOR EVERY STUDENT WHO CHOOSES TO USE VOUCHERS), that is where the additional $1.371 billion would accrue to the public school system in the scenario that the LFA describes.

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  4. Your scenario is unrealistic and irrelevant.

    To accomplish what you're suggesting would require that we convince thousands of additional students BEYOND THE 12% ESTIMATED BY THE LEGISLATIVE FISCAL ANALYST to leave the public schools.

    To accomplish what you are saying we would have to go from last in the nation in per-capita private school attendance to first in the nation.

    To obtain an additional $1.371 billion in savings you would have to convince, THIS YEAR, an additional 19,174 kindergarten students to attend private schools and make sure they remain in the private schools for 13 full years (19,174 X $5,500 X 13 = $1.371 billion). This is greater than the current number of seats in all of the private schools in the state! We'd have to more than double the number of private school seats and make them all available for kindergarten students.

    This is an impossible situation.

    So, to answer your second portion, you're proposing that the legislature adopt permanent mitigation funding as well as retro-actively mitigating existing private school students. You're proposing that this money be transferred every year from the general fund to the uniform school fund. You're then basically paying for private school students twice! I'll tell you if you made this proposal you would receive exactly 0 votes for what would be the largest tax increase in Utah history!

    C'mon, Frank. Let's be real!

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  5. Craig,

    Yes it's unrealistic, but it's NOT irrelevant. Now I think you're just being belligerent. 17,000 students DON'T HAVE to leave (or never enter) the public schools for this to reap benefits to the public schools, so long as the legislature earmarks the extra money (currently $5,500) per student to the public schools.

    The LFA was giving the best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) case scenario. $1.8 billion in savings is that scenario, just like $429 million in costs is that scenario. But just about anything short of that is a benefit to the public schools.

    If the legislature earmarks future monies as I have outlined:

    -10 students leaving a school ($55,000) would nearly make it so the school could hire one new teacher.

    -50 students leaving a school ($275,000) means 4 or 5 new teachers.

    That's all because the kids leave, but most of their money stays

    It doesn't take much for it to begin to pay off very quickly.

    Please tell me that you can see that logic, even if you disagree with it.

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  6. You also say:

    ou're proposing that this money be transferred every year from the general fund to the uniform school fund. You're then basically paying for private school students twice!


    Okay, I'm dumb. How is that paying for private school students twice?

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  7. Frank,

    Until we can come to a mutual understanding of the $1.8 billion number, anything we say is going to be moot. I disagree with your assessment and I believe the facts on what it means are clear.

    I do understand your logic that switchers result in spending less. However, without vouchers, we would save even more money. Multiple studies have shown that the voucher is a low motivator for switching. If we wanted to take the analysis further, the only true savings under the voucher program would arise from those students for whom the voucher was a determinant in their switching away. But that's a subject for another day :-)

    Thanks...Craig.

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  8. Don (from OneUtah)9/21/2007 10:45:00 PM

    Frank,
    I'm really at a loss as to what you are proposing. Are you proposing permanent mitigation money? Do you realize what a challenge it was just to get the five years of mitigation money?

    Furthermore, do you realize that the mitigation money in year one will equal approximately $25 per student remaining in public schools statewide? This figure was obtained using the LFA figures for HB174. A $25 increase per student hardly sounds like a windfall for public education to me.

    Regarding the actual cost or benefit of the bill to taxpayers, again using the LFA for HB174, in year one taxpayers will save approximately 8 million dollars. But that figure will drop every year, eventually becoming a net cost, as another entire grade of private school students becomes eligible for vouchers.

    If I may take the liberty of estimating total private school enrollment of 20000 in year 13 when the program is fully implemented (an approximate increase of 20% over current enrollment), vouchers will be a net cost to taxpayers of approximately 18 million per year using the same LFA figures.

    If you want to add mitigation money on top of that for the estimated 14.5% who would otherwise be in public schools, then you'll have to funnel another 15.9 million to the Uniform School Fund. If you want to add mitigation money for every private school student, then you're looking at another 110 million cost to taxpayers.

    As far as I can tell vouchers are a net cost to taxpayers under almost any scenario. The only way they're not is if we are extremely optimistic (i.e. reckless) in estimating the actual number of "switchers".

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  9. Sorry to interject, and please, by all means don't let me derail the discussion, but I wanted to thank all of you posting/commenting here for doing so.

    It is very educational, and I think, regardless of which side of this issue one rests, conversations like this are what we need more of in order for us to make the best choice for Utah.

    Thanks for making this debate public. Wish more would do so.

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  10. Okay, so I’ve done some more calculations and here’s what I’ve come up with.

    For all of my calculations I’ve been using the Legislative Fiscal Analyst’s average voucher figure of approximately $2000 and the Utah Taxpayer Association’s figure of $7500/student for public education. With these assumptions each student who switches from public education to private (switchers) will save the state $5500.

    In order for a fully implemented voucher system to just break even, the number of switchers must be just over 36% relative to the total number of private school students.

    Here’s how the numbers break down for a total private student population of 30000.

    30000 x $2000=$60,000,000 total voucher amount.
    30000 x .3636 x $5500=$59,994,000 total savings from “switchers”.

    This gives us a net loss of $6000, basically a wash.

    Now, to get to a private school population with 36% switchers, the actual switch rate relative to the base private school population is about 57%. (19092 base population + 10908 switchers = 30000 total population). A 57% switch rate is simply unrealistic in the real world. In fact, it is almost four times the 14.5% rate estimated by the LFA.

    Don’t forget, this wildly unrealistic switch rate is just to get us to the break even point. In order to get any type of real savings from the voucher program, the switch rate would have to be even higher. For comparison’s sake, a 100% switch rate would lead to a net savings of about 28.6 million. Again, this is hardly a windfall for taxpayers or public schools and it is based on a virtually unattainable number of switchers.

    In the end it is hard to conclude anything other than Parents for Choice in Education, their media lackeys (Lavar Webb) and the Utah Taxpayer’s Association are being completely dishonest in touting the voucher program as some great benefit to public schools and/or a huge savings for taxpayers. It’s either that or they just don’t know what they’re talking about.

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  11. Don,

    Right on! This is the truth that PCE doesn't want people to know.

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  12. Hi Don! Welcome to SUMP. Thanks for your comments, and especially the figures to help me understand your frame of reference. I think this is where Craig is coming from, too.

    Your numbers make perfect sense if the legislature doesn't make one change, and that is to earmark the difference in funds back to the public schools, even for private schoolers who never set foot in a public school. If the legislature doesn't fix this problem, then I'll have a hard time supporting vouchers, as well. If they do, then the public schools receive the $5,500 windfall (this year's average estimate) for the very first student who takes a voucher (and for every one thereafter).

    Yes, I am saying that we have to do permanent mitigation money of some sort, otherwise it is a win for the voucher people, a loss for the public schools, and an overall loss for the State of Utah.

    Jason,

    Thanks for your interjection. It's very appropriate. I appreciate your comments and all of the other comments that we've had on this issue. They've been generally civil and have been very educational to me.

    I agree that we need more discourse. I have tried to state my passion and make my point, but without being dogmatic. And I appreciate that everyone else here has done much of the same.

    For me, vouchers Yes or vouchers No is not the main point. The most important point when it comes to vouchers or any other political issue is that we can disagree while still being civil and while still being friends.

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  13. Here's the big question: Should Utah be the national laboratory for a right-wing experiment, at our own expense?

    Utahns reject vouchers by a 2-1 margin, and I think this is the reason. Let them stick it to some other state, not us.

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  14. I agree that they likely oppose vouchers. But if the legislature fixed the funding problem that I talked about, they would likely SUPPORT them by more than a 2-1 margin.

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  15. Hey Frank. Thanks for the welcome and thanks for providing the compelling posts leading to the invaluable comment threads. I'm glad I stumbled upon them through Jeremy's site.

    I think it's great that you want to use the voucher plan as a reason to add funding to public education, but they’re really two separate issues. I think Craig is right when he says the permanent mitigation plan you propose would garner little if any support on the Hill. Such a plan would really be more of a quid-pro-quo rather than purely mitigation since you would be tieing money to all private school students rather than just the switchers. The nominal cost of such a plan for the 30000 private school students in my previous scenario would be $165 million. If we have that kind of money to throw around, why don’t we just increase funding to public education regardless of whether or not we subsidize private education as well?

    Now, if vouchers do turn out to be a net benefit to taxpayers, then I would love to see the savings earmarked back to public education, rather than to the General Fund where legislators could spend it on whatever they wish, or even use it to justify unneeded tax cuts.

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  16. So Frank,

    If your main goal is just to get more funding into our public school system why do you think vouchers are the best vehicle? Wouldn't a direct increase be more beneficial than tying the increase to new entitlement for private school kids?

    I still don't understand how you think we're saving anything. We're still going to be paying more for the kids who never would have attended schools than we will save from the switchers. Instead of transferring imagined "savings" to the public school system while subsidizing private school students why not just abandon vouchers and lobby for adequate spending increases for education?

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  17. Doh...I didn't read Don's whole comment before posting my last one. Sorry to duplicate!

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  18. Don and Jeremy,

    With permanent mitigation, we wouldn't necessarily be saving anything. What it would achieve, however, is to increase Utah's very low (compared to other states) rate of per pupil spending in the public schools. The monies could be used to reduce class size and increase teacher salaries, which I think are also very worthy and necessary goals.

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  19. Craig J,

    Your model has two serious flaws, one of which we have alluded to several times previously (the voucher amount for those already in private schools). According to opponents' assumptions, the voucher amount for existing privates should be $500 since they are all wealthy. Nevertheless, you maintain that claim while assuming the income profile of existing private schoolers matches the general population.

    Bad anti-voucherite, no biscuit.

    We'll be issuing our own report shortly and we'll show our work and defend our assumptions.

    Until then.

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  20. Hey Frank,
    I think Jeremy and I both understand what you're trying to accomplish with your permanent mitigation plan. I bet we'd both agree that it is a laudable goal as well.

    What I don't get is why we have to subsidize private education just to get the proper funding for public education. Like I said, it would be a quid-pro-quo. If the money is available, and we think it is a valid and necessary way to spend it, then why tie the two together? Why not just fund public education properly to start with?

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  21. Utah Taxpayer,
    Is it a standard practice of yours to use others' false assumptions to create your own? ;)

    I'm looking forward to your report . . .

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  22. Hey UTA,

    Its great that you'll be working on a new pro-voucher bit of funny math but when are you going to finish the stuff you started on T-N-T? That was the kind of blogging that actually served taxpayers. It was a lot better than lobbying for a new and unnecessary government entitlement..

    Your assumption that all non-switchers will only cost $500 is convenient for you. Unfortunately you're the only one working under the assumption that all current private school students' families are “wealthy”. A large portion of the people sending their kids to private schools aren't wealthy enough to only qualify for the $500. They're purchasing tuition at parochial schools that are cheaper for church members and which currently provide direct assistance to church members. The voucher plan could easily end up subsidizing lots of those families with $3000 vouchers. Here's hoping you include that possibility in your new model.

    Frank,

    I think you have some good ideas...I still don't understand why new school spending has to be tied to a welfare program for private school students in the form of vouchers.

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  23. Don and Jeremy,

    The reason we tie the two together is that you can educate more people for the same amount of state money.

    If we simply give the money to the public schools, they will have the same class sizes and teacher salaries.

    But if we encourage kids to go to the private schools, according to my proposal, every student who chooses to do so saves the state approximately $5,500. The state can (AND SHOULD) then designate that money to go back into the public schools to help pay teachers more and hire more teachers.

    If we try to achieve these aims without vouchers it will cost the state more in absolute dollars to accomplish the same goals.

    That is why vouchers can be a win for the public schools--(1) a reduction in the size of the public school population, and (2) more money per student than the public schools had before (assuming that the legislature designates the savings per student back to the public schools).

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  24. Frank,

    Your proposal sounds great, on paper. But I think it kind of relies on the assumption that the voucher program will actually be saving the State money. As my previous posts have suggested, that is a dubious assumption at best.

    If the program isn't actually saving money, then the money to funnel back to public schools is going to have to come from somewhere. Quite frankly, if you took a proposal to the Legislature that increased funding to public schools based on the current number of students in private schools (which is essentially what you are advocating) I think they'd thank you kindly and promptly round file your proposal.

    It's just not realistic to think that our notoriously stingy Republican controlled Legislature is going to want to increase funding to public ed. under a plan such as yours.

    Now, if you were truly supporting vouchers because you thought they'd help out public education as well, I think it is time that you change your opinion on this voucher law. It simply doesn't do what its proponents say it does.

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  25. UTA,

    Your continued attempts to change the subject are truly sad.

    So by writing your upcoming post, you mean to say you are going to dispute the impartial analysis?

    Thanks...Craig.

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  26. Don,

    Well maybe they need to get me and you in the legislature, then. ;-)

    The legislature did a reasonably good job increasing teacher salaries last year, and have pledge to do some more. I think the fact that it would slow the increase of costs for the public schools would be a good reason for a lot of legislators to support it. I think the Democrats would in a heartbeat.

    Craig,

    I really don't think UT is trying to change the subject. This is just the mindset that he is coming from. I have always been able to see UT's perspective, because I think that way. It took me a while to see yours (and Don's, Jeremy's, Sara's, etc.), but now I do.

    I really do think there is a compromise in here someplace. That's why I wrote this recent post, because often we treat our opponents like there is not.

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  27. Craig,

    Since when did questioning the assumptions in the impartial analysis turn into "changing the subject"?

    Every time we point out you can't say "private schools are for the rich" AND "the average voucher amount will be based on a profile of Utah income earners in general" you say its changing the subject or trying to create a diversion.

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  28. Jeremy,

    You've been the most vocal of all bloggers claiming that the rich are the beneficiary of vouchers, and NOW that we've pointed out the weakness in YOUR argument, you start back tracking.

    Go back and read your own comments about how vouchers are a subsidy for the rich and then tell us that the $500 is not based on YOUR OWN CLAIMS.

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  29. Frank,

    UTA is not evil in my mind, just incorrect in this case. I know exactly what they're trying to do in this instance, though, and it isn't about "perspective." They're trying to pin people down on a point that has nothing to do with the impartial analysis and the real fiscal impact of this bill. Bottom line - the bill will cost taxpayers a lot of money. UTA doesn't like this and so they're trying to force the discussion into an unrelated tangent about rich vs. poor.

    Let's see things for what they really are! It truly does help to advance the discussion.

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  30. Craig,

    You're right that it will cost taxpayers a lot of money under both of the following circumstances:

    (1) We do nothing, and let the public schools continue to grow, or

    (2) We implement vouchers as the law currently exists.

    However, I'm suggesting we FIX THE LAW, so that we ultimately save Utah taxpayers money in the long run by giving back to the public schools ALL OF THE DIFFERENCE between the cost of a student in the public schools and the cost of the voucher he or she uses. At the same time, because there are fewer students in the public schools, there is more money to go around in the public schools.

    Do you see my point? Do you agree that it would be an advantage to the public schools?

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  31. Frank/UTA,

    It's not just the poor who qualify for a $2000 average voucher. A family with 6 kids and a $110,000 income qualifies for the $2000 average voucher. A family with 4 kids and a $70,000 income qualifies for the $2000 average voucher. That doesn't exactly sound like "poor people" to me.

    So, we're giving a $2,000 voucher to a family with a six-figure income where the kids never intended to go to public school?

    With numbers like that (again, from the impartial analysis), the $500 argument rings hollow; it's easy to see why this program will end up costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

    Thanks...Craig.

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  32. Craig,

    The cost of vouchers to those already in private school has EVERYTHING to do with the analysis.

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  33. Craig,

    You answered UT's question, but not mine. Do you see my point?

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  34. Craig,

    You and the impartial LFA cannot assume that the average voucher amount for existing/would-be privates would be the same as for switcher, but that is exactly what you have done.

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  35. Jeremy,

    Regarding property taxes, we'll be issuing our annual property tax report in October. We address TNT and a bunch of other issues there.

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  36. Craig,

    The six-kid family argument is an outlier. Even in Utah, there aren't that many six-children families anymore, at least not as a percentage of the total. You are making a statistically insignificant argument.

    Are you now defining $70,000 as rich, in order to maintain your "vouchers are for the rich" mantra? That's a household with two teachers with about 10 years teaching experience. A recent engineering graduate makes only a little less than $70K.

    Btw, the big difference between Utah and the U.S. is not the prevalence of six children families. The difference is that Utahns tend to have one or two extra than the national average.

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  37. Craig,

    The average Utah woman has about 2.54 children in her lifetime, not four and certainly not six.

    Source: 2007 Economic Report to the Governor, page (pdf) 3 of 248

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  38. Craig,

    Assuming the average voucher amounts for existing an switchers is not the only mistake.

    You've also assumed an average tuition that is too high which impacts the switch rate. More about that later.

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  39. Frank,

    I wouldn't mind seeing you in the Legislature. You have a willingness to see things with an open mind and you also have a willingness to see where funding needs are not being met and at least trying to come up with a way to get it done. You also have a great sense of fairness. I think you'd make an excellent representative, even as a Republican. ;)

    As for me, I already have some pretty strong Democratic representation from my SLC area, so I'll think I'll pass for now. ;)

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  40. UTA,

    Since you've lost the argument on vouchers costing more than they save feel free to cite more meaningless statistics in the pursuit of fuzzy math nirvana.

    I've made no such assumptions. I cited an example or two from the impartial analysis that demonstrates that it is not just the poor who receive an average voucher. You can earn a six-figure income and still receive an average voucher. Yes, that's just one case but it doesn't make it any less true.

    Why don't you go ahead and write your report that discredits the Legislative Fiscal Analyst and we can all have some more fun.

    Until then...

    Thanks...Craig.

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  41. Frank,

    Regarding your post from 9:29 am and the supposed savings to taxpayers if we "fix the law" as you propose.

    Are you still proposing that we apply mitigation money to the entire private school population? If so, your proposal won't lead to any taxpayer savings. There will always be the extra cost to taxpayers of subsidizing those students who would have gone to private schools regardless of receiving a voucher. The taxpayer costs for the switchers will always be a wash since we will be spending the same amount on them either way. Taxpayers will not save any money under your plan. They'll always pay more.

    That being said, you are right that this would be a win for public schools because they would be getting extra funding in perpetuity based on the private school population. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't get too much Republican support for such a plan because, IMHO, it just isn't a good fiscal policy. You might get some support from Democrats who would be willing to do just about anything to increase funding for public schools (because banging their heads on the wall for years hasn't helped.) But as Craig and I have been trying to point out, it just isn't reasonable to expect much support for such a plan (I'm sure the UTA guy would love it! ;) )

    To sum it all up, yes your plan would help public schools. But no, your plan would not save any taxpayer money.

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  42. Frank,

    I appreciate you wanting to find creative solutions. I do agree that public schools need a greater investment. I'll campaign hard for that!

    I confess I've never heard of a plan like yours before. My first opinion on it was that it would not receive support in the legislature as it would likely mean a large influx of money from the general fund to the uniform school fund. We already have higher education that transfers money from the uniform school fund to the general fund. So, let's say that the extra money for private school students goes into the uniform school fund and creates a shortage in the general fund. Since cuts to higher ed are completely unrealistic, higher ed would then have to request extra money to make up for the shortage from the uniform school fund. That would simply be the money that you just put in from the general fund. So, without crunching all of the numbers, I imagine a $150 million payment from the general fund to the uniform school fund would impact higher education and might actually net out to a very small investment in public ed.

    What I do find highly ironic in all of this is that groups like UTA and the "Informed Voter PIC" are fine with a quarter of a billion dollars coming out of the general fund for vouchers and yet they couldn't find the $2 million dollars to help elderly, blind, and disabled people.

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  43. Frank,

    Once again, I applaud you for wanting to fix this law so that it truly helps public education. I think the only way to realistically do so is to first, make sure that the voucher plan actually saves taxpayer money and second, earmark any savings back to public education. Taxpayers would end up in a wash, but public education would get increased funding. I could support a bill that did these things.

    This of course is what pro-voucher people want you to believe the current voucher plan will do. But I think it's pretty clear that it won't do this, unless you use some pretty optimistic assumptions about the number of students who will switch.

    And you're right, the bill is flawed in that if by some miracle vouchers do end up saving millions of taxpayer dollars, those funds aren't earmarked back to public ed. Any savings will go back to the General Fund where the Legislature can either spend it on whatever they want, or use it to justify more unnecessary tax cuts.

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  44. Don,

    You are correct. In my comment of 9:29 AM today, my idea WOULD NOT save money when compared with my item (1). I stand corrected. Perhaps, however, after 10 or 15 years, the 'extra' money given to the public schools would bring the per student spending up to a high enough level that we have the smaller class sizes and higher teacher salaries that we need, and then we can reduce the percentage of the '$5,500' difference that is given back to the public schools.

    By the way, thanks for the previous compliment. Are you the same Don that I "debated" with over at OneUtah a few months back regarding the root causes of the 9/11 Attacks? If so, you'll be interested to know that my open mind on that issue has allowed me to be further educated in that regard as well. I still believe US morals are a small part of the reason that fundamentalist Muslims desire to attack us, but I recently read "Blowback" by Chalmers Johnson and am currently reading "Dying to Win" by Robert Pape, which have both changed my perspective. Military occupation REALLY IS the main reason that suicide campaigns get started. I plan on putting some of my thoughts on this subject here in the next few days.

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  45. Don,

    You're right. What PCE and others want us to think is NOT the way it currently is. They might want it to be, but it's not.

    I now have some thinking to do. Do I trust the legislators enough to fix the problem that I vote FOR vouchers in November, or do I vote AGAINST and hope they can fix it next year?

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  46. Craig,

    You raise some interesting points and additional problems with my idea that I hadn't thought of.

    I'm beginning to think that the current voucher law is "not yet ready for prime time".

    But I hope I have convinced you that we can craft something that is beneficial to all and palatable to both sides of the issue. What I'm concerned about is that if we don't implement vouchers this time, the door of opportunity may be closed.

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  47. This has been a great discussion. Thanks, Frank, for hosting it. You have given me new thoughts to consider and I appreciate that. I've given a lot of thought to school choice and how we might be able to reach out to create policy that is palatable to a much wider range of citizens. Last year's charter school bill, which I fully supported and campaigned for, was a great example. It passed the legislature unanimously! It brought the right mix of responsible funding, accountability, and autonomy and turned out to be a complete no-brainer for folks of all stripes. That's the kind of policy that I like - responsible, reasonable, and widely supported.

    As I do have a dog in this fight, I won't go into detail on whether I think you should vote for vouchers now and hope they get fixed or to hold off until a better proposal is made. That's a tough call for anyone who supports a concept but may have questions with the specific implementation presented. I'm sure that legislators are faced with that dilemma all the time.

    So, have you thought of challenging your incumbent in the next primary ;-)

    Signing out!

    Thanks...Craig.

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  48. Frank,
    Yes, I'm the same Don. :)

    "Trust the Legislators," hah! Good one Frank.

    I really don't know how the current law can be fixed. For the reasons Craig explained, you can't just say we're going to transfer a bunch of money out of the General Fund without creating a ripple effect of problems to fix.

    I'm currently of the opinion that this voucher law is a loser and should be voted down. But I'm very curious to see UTA's fiscal analysis and how it compares to the LFA's impartial analysis. Obviously, UTA thinks the numbers will work to actually save taxpayers money. It'll be interesting to see how that happens.

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  49. Yes I have thought of challenging my incumbent, and my wife has 'thought about it' even more than I have!

    It's interesting to know your views on charter schools. My kids all go to American Leadership Academy in Spanish Fork. You make a good point that the charter school legislation was a "good mix".

    Hopefully we can get to that point on vouchers, whether it's this year or sometime in the future.

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  50. Frank,

    I personally have said many times in other forums that I am not philosophically against vouchers.

    There are several things I would need to see before I could support any voucher legislation.

    1. Progressivity. The current voucher law is fine, as far as it goes. But I would like to see an increased maximum voucher to truly facilitate choice for low income families. I'd also like the money to be available to help out with other costs besides tuition (uniforms, transportation, etc.)

    2. A relatively low income cut off where no voucher is available. Giving taxpayer money to those who don't need it is simply horrible public policy as far as I'm concerned.

    3. Increased accountability measures. Voucher supporters will say that parents provide more accountability, but unfortunately it just doesn't work that way in the real world. The Milwaukee system is proof that fraud will occur when little accountability to taxpayers (i.e. government regulation) is required.

    4. I'm on the fence about religious schools. I'm leaning toward a requirement that vouchers not go toward any religious private schools. Religions are already tax exempt, why should their learning institutions be subsidized on top of that?

    5. Mitigation money. I like your idea of permanent mitigation money, however I would tie it to switchers only. Of course, when there are no more switchers and only those who enter private school because of the voucher, then we'll have to have a way to quantify the number of "would be" switchers. I'll leave that to the stats guys.

    I too would like to thank you for providing this forum for some excellent discussions Frank. I've come to realize that this issue is quite complicated, especially financially. Even the slightest change in numbers can create huge implications in the cost/benefit analysis.

    In the end, I think there is a solution out there. If we really want to facilitate choice for low income parents, I think it would be better to set up a scholarship fund that parents have to individually apply for (a government funded Children First Utah, if you will.)

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  51. UTA,

    I think a family with only two kids that lives on $70k per year is pretty well off...I'd even say they're wealthy. Even if that's debatable the family described above certainly doesn't need to be subsidized with my tax dollars so they can put their kids in private school. My contention that this is welfare for the wealthy still stands.

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  52. Craig,

    Great strawman argument (that means you're losing the argument). We've never said that high income families don't benefit from vouchers. We've said that you have insisted that

    - only high income will use the vouchers (you respond with a statistically irrelevant six-children family example)

    - then you say $70K is wealthy

    - you (and the LFA) say that the average voucher amount for existing privates will be the same as for switchers while saying existing privates are wealthier than the rest of us.

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  53. Jeremy,

    Craig's example was $70K with FOUR kids, not two.

    Besides, are you REALLY saying that $70K is wealthy?

    Apparently, wealthy depends on the situation. If it's about expanding CHIP, $70K is middle class. If it's about vouchers, now $70K becomes wealthy.

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  54. Jeremy and Craig,

    I actually think UT is right on the average voucher question, sort of.

    The LFA does use the average voucher amount ($2008) to estimate costs and/or benefits. We would get a truer picture if we estimate the average voucher of existiing private students separate from the average voucher of switchers.

    Where UTA's argument falls down is that he wants to use the predictably lower average for existing students but still use the overall average for switchers. I'm sure the LFA incorporated all voucher users into its average, therefore, if UTA wants to separate them out, then the switchers average voucher will be higher than the LFA's number. This is going to skew a lot of the numbers one way or the other (cost v. benefit).

    Once again, I'm keenly interested in seeing UTA's analysis.

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  55. UTA,

    Can you see the irony in you accusing Craig of creating a straw man argument right before that last post you directed at me? I've never written a word about CHIP! Talk about straw man arguments!

    My example was a family of 4 making between $70k and $110K receiving $2000 vouchers. Yeah...I think $70k/year is pretty good money. I also think they don't need taxpayer subsidies to put their kids in private school if they choose to do so. In fact it is pretty irresponsible of you to pose as an advocate for taxpayers while pushing as hard as you have to get tuition subsidies for families like this.

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  56. Jeremy,

    Again, I'm going to have to agree with UT. $70000 for a family with four kids (or even two) is really not wealthy. It's not poor by any means, but I wouldn't call it wealthy. I wouldn't have a problem subsidizing such a family if I thought the cause was necessary and worthwhile.

    BTW, for those who argue that vouchers are simply giving taxpayers control over their own money (haven't seen it here, but it's all over the news forums) this scenario kind of puts that to rest. A family with four kids making $70000 could conceivably receive $8000 in vouchers per year. Even if all of their income is taxable (it's not of course) they'd only be paying $3500 in State income taxes. If they have a $250000 home, they probably pay about $750 or so in property taxes for education. $8000 less the $4250 in taxes they pay for education means they are getting back $3750 more than they put in, effectively making them a net drain on funding for public education.

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  57. UTA,

    You've already lost the argument that vouchers cost more than they save but that won't stop you from forging ahead.

    Read what I said - no need to project something that's not there. I said $70K and $110K is not poor. And it's not. Not even close. You're the ones creating these bogus "rich vs. poor" quantum states. Again, you're trying to make a point that does not have bearing on the actual fiscal impact of the legislation that will go before the voters.

    What I will say, for the record, is that the ultra-wealthy receiving $500 vouchers is an absurd proposition and is terrible public policy.

    I can't wait to see your report. You're now saying that you believe the Legislative Fiscal Analyst is in error. What I see is a $2000 number that hasn't been disaggregated. Perhaps it has - I think I'll find out - you've made me curious.

    I'll give your analysis a fair review and I'll compare it to the LFA's calculations.

    Regardless, I believe that the totals will still bear out that this program will cost taxpayers a lot of money.

    But perhaps you'll surprise all of us. If that happens, I'll be quite interested to see how you conclude that the LFA is off by hundreds of millions of dollars.

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  58. Don,

    I agree. I'm not terribly comfortable with the LFA's numbers and I see the logic in UTA's funding argument. I still don't think there will be enough switchers to make vouchers pay and I still don't think the average free loaders (non-public school attending voucher adopter) will only receive $500 vouchers. It will be interesting to read UTA's new analysis and if we do get stuck with this voucher plan I really hope UTA is right that it won't be the phenomenal waste of money I think it will end up being.

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  59. I need to go back and reread the last 10 comments or so, but let me say that I agree with those of you who have said that there should be a complete phase-out of voucher eligibility based on family income. In other words, someone who is rich (I'll not define that here) should not be allowed to have a $500 voucher--because they don't need it.

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  60. Frank,

    Good distinction. This is the difference between a "means-tested" voucher program and a "universal" voucher program. This is the first universal voucher program in the United States. I am not automatically opposed to a means-tested voucher program with proper accountability. As they say the devil's in the details.

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  61. I've enjoyed reading what Frank and Craig have written--very insightful . Hope you don't mind me chiming in.

    First, I've been looking at the fiscal notes for HB0148 (located here). It clearly shows that lion's share of the funding for these scholarships comes from the general fund, with perhaps about 1/4 or less being taken out of the public school fund. So clearly, in terms of 'absolute costs to me as a taxpayer', this bill will cost more and probably be funded by a tax-increase, i.e., you don't get $9.3 million and $12.4 million dollars from the General Fund without a penny-increase tax sometime down the road.

    Second thought, and this was brought up earlier, the $5.5 K difference that is supposed to be freed up is apparently earmarked for the school district for only 5 years after a student decides to switch, but will revert back to the legislature over time (see Feb 16 memo from the Heritage Foundation). While it makes sense that a school shouldn't receive perpetual money for students that don't attend, this sounds like the legislature's idea of cutting back on education spending. Think about it: while the state pays more up-front for scholarships, they end up paying $2K per student instead of $7.5K in the long run for those that switch. The more students that switch, the more the State saves and the students ultimately lose-out.

    Instead, I would really like to see a larger portion of the $7.5K be used in a voucher.

    With that said, I still feel that as a parent, I'm better off supporting HB148/172. Here's why:

    1. I'd rather have $2K and have the choice of where to use that money than have $7.5K and have absolutely no choice in where my kids go and what my kids are taught. My daughter is in 3rd grade and doesn't know how to borrow in subtraction because our school district decided to invest in a great math program that was totally useless in teaching her math. I am certain that my $2K of 'suboptimal allocation of education money' will be better spent at an institution of my choice than at her current school.

    2. I think that while this bill isn't perfect (i.e., it will probably result in slightly higher taxes and lower overall education spend), it's a step in the right direction towards greater competition in education. There are only a few exceptions that come to mind where increased competition is a bad idea, and education isn't one of them. My hope is that those of us who are interested in this issue this year won't lose interest in the coming years where opportunities exist to better the bill.

    3. The risk of 'losing momentum' in this issue is real. Let's face it, policy more often than not follows campaign money, and there's been a lot of money invested in this issue from both sides of the political spectrum. This bill, in my opinion, provides enough benefit to accept and fix later than to reject and continue not supporting a parent's right to choose.

    If we called this 'pro-choice' education, would we have any better luck in building consensus, I wonder?

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  62. Matthew,

    Thanks for your contribution to the debate. I think the reason at least some of the money needs to be mitigated back to the public schools is (probably a separate issue, but) that we need more teachers and less children per classroom.

    I like your reasons for supporting vouchers, and as it stands I will vote for vouchers in the referendum. I am hopeful, like you, that we can get this ball rolling and fix the problems that we know about and that we discover along the way.

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  63. Oh, come on Frank! I thought I had you leaning the other way . . . tease! ;)

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  64. Frank,

    Like my conservative friends say to me, hope is not a strategy :-)

    I never expected you to switch your vote but I do hope that it's clear that this is a flawed bill that will cost more than it saves.

    Thanks...Craig.

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  65. You are correct. There are problems. I guess the Pollyanna is coming out in me--I think we can fix them.

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  66. The bottom line of this issue is: Should a nation that was founded on the principle of individual liberty, financially coerce parents to send their children to government run schools? I think not.

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