I was pretty sure I had this Utah school voucher thingy figured out. And then something suddenly came up. You know those approximately 17,000 students that are currently in the Utah private schools, and that therefore don't qualify for voucher money? In 13 years, they won't be in the private schools anymore, because they will have grown up and graduated. But the generation of students that will have replaced them will qualify for vouchers, and they will likely number many more than 17,000. That means it's going to cost the state a lot more than I thought to implement vouchers. So does that change my opinion on vouchers? It almost does, but I've thought about it, and my opinion remains the same.
Yesterday I was browsing Utah Bloghive, when I came across this post on Jeremy's Jeremiad. He linked to this post on Green Jello, where Pramahaphil got looking more closely at the cost of vouchers and decided to change his opinion and oppose referendum 1. I was taken aback, because they both made a great point that I had never thought of. The state is likely not going to save nearly as much money on vouchers as I thought, and it may even cost the state money. I respect both Jeremy and Pramahaphil, but I still have decided to support Referendum 1.
Since there are about 17,000 private school students who currently don't qualify for vouchers, but in 13 years from now there will be zero of such students, there is a cost to the state of at least $34 million (17,000 students * $2,000) in just the 13th year for this difference. It will likely actually be closer to $50 million (or 25,000 students) it we assume a 25% population growth over that period. Since the state doesn't pay for the private school population now, this figure has to be considered when discussing the cost of vouchers, because in the future they will.
This calls one of the assumptions that I have held for quite some time into question. I have in the past said that I feel that, if Referendum 1 passes, the State should compensate the public schools in some way for every student who chooses to use a voucher--even those who have never used the public schools. The problem with that logic is that the state does NOT pay that extra $34 million currently.
It's hard to make the cost break-even analysis, because we don't know how fast Utah's population will grow in the next 13 years. But to approximate, for this to not be a net cost to the state, 13 years from now, there will need to be a minimum of 34,100 students in the private schools, a figure that is about 9,100 students more than the current trend (assuming constant 2.8% of students in private schools and 25% population growth rate).
So, I take back some of the things I've said about how cost-effective vouchers will be, but I still support them. Two reasons indicate that now is the best time to start the voucher program: (1) Utah's economy is currently very robust, and (2) Utah's school population has grown at a low rate for the past several years. These two factors will not always be. Which is why now is the time to implement vouchers. And which is why we need to encourage a greater number of students to use more cost-efficient private education. If not, if the economy tanks and when public school population begins again to trend upward, I'm afraid we'd be in for a huge tax hike.
So I'm plugging my nose a bit, but I still support Referendum 1. The cost issue as I thought I understood it before is not so rosy, but it can still be if we exceed the break-even point as we work together to encourage more students to choose vouchers. Besides, as I've discussed here before, there are a plethora of other good reasons to support vouchers.
Vote For Referendum 1 on November 6th.