School Vouchers: Helping Many More Utah Students Graduate

Public schools, especially in Utah, are all about leaving no child behind. Yet 16% of Utah public school students do not graduate from high school. It is very likely that an education voucher would be many of these students' tickets to a better education, to include high school graduation.

Public schools are essentially a one-size-fits-all paradigm. Yet one size does not really seem to fit all. Charter schools have significantly remedied this problem, and thousands of Utah public school students are thriving in various charter schools throughout the state. Several thousand more are taking advantage of another choice--home schooling. Until I spent a year in Iraq, my wife and I had home-schooled our children. While I was gone, our children were put into a K-12 charter school. We are very impressed with it, and all of them, continuing in that same charter school, are doing very well in their studies.

Apparently, we need to have additional choices, however. The State of Utah, as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, reported that for the most recent reporting period (2006?), only 84% of Utah Public school students graduated as expected. The Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE) extrapolates this to mean that about 8,400 public school students per year do not graduate in Utah. This, according to AEE means that:
Dropouts from the class of 2006 cost the state more than $2.2 billion in lost wages, taxes, and productivity over their lifetimes.
• If Utah’s likely dropouts from the class of 2006 graduated instead, the state could save more than $79.1 million in Medicaid and expenditures for uninsured care over the course of those young people’s lifetimes.
• If Utah’s high schools and colleges raise the graduation rates of Hispanic, African-American, and Native-American students to the levels of white students by 2020, the potential increase in personal income would add more than $781 million to the state economy.
• Increasing the graduation rate and college matriculation of male students in Utah by only 5 percent could lead to combined savings and revenue of almost $39.3 million each year by reducing crime-related costs.
Those are some financial figures that would never be picked up by a Legislative Fiscal Analysis, yet they are compelling--even if only a fraction of the non-graduating students were to graduate with the help of a voucher to a private school.

Don't nitpick the financial numbers. No matter how you slice it, the State of Utah will save money with vouchers. Don't nitpick the politics of subterfuge by Parents for Choice in Education--terrible but not the worst politicking that has ever gone on in Utah by far.

Instead look at the merits of vouchers, including this merit that I had not before understood or contemplated. Here is possibly a hidden diamond in the rough of the school voucher controversy. It is likely that several more students will graduate with high school diplomas if they can use a voucher.

If you didn't have a reason to vote for vouchers in November, now you have at least one.

Vote for Referendum 1 on November 6th.


  1. I am all for an education reform, but I am concerned about the voucher system. I believe that the number of graduates does not depend on whether the students would have a voucher or not. I have experienced that children will make the decision to drop out of school by the time they are in Junior High. The parents involvement with the child's education also has an impact on the child's success.
    Another issue I have is my tax dollars funding a program that I don't approve of. Why should my hard earned tax dollars go toward a private entity. Isn't that against the constitutional laws?
    I am all for parent choice. I believe that parents know their children better than the educators (most of the time). Let the parents choose where their children get their education whether it be charter, private, or homeschool. Public education is not for every child. But leave my tax dollars out of it.
    As for "one-size-fits-all" theory is not always the truth in my opinion. I will confess that I am a public elementary school teacher. I have a class of 28 children. Therefore, I have 28 different levels of learning and make accomodations every day for all of those students. I spend hours at school planning for these children so they may have a quality education. But when it comes right down to education in the classroom, I don't only teach the "three R's", I also teach manners, how to get along with each other, and how to act in public. Yes these are some of the things parents forget to teach their children (some times). I also deal with children who come from broken and abusive homes, children who don't get proper care, and also children whose parents are in jail for some reason or another. I have not heard of a private or charter school dealing with these type of concerns. Usually, these are the children that end up dropping out of school because their parents don't care. We live in a different day and age now when the public school is the babysitter. Boy, I would be paid a lot if I was babysitting 28 children for 6 hours a day. Believe me I am not in this for the money. I am in this career for the children.
    I understand that the children with special needs will not have the opportunity of private schools because of behavior, learning disabilities, or poor academic grades. The private schools have that choice of who they want to accept and who not to accept.
    One last item on vouchers. As I have listened to some of the views from larger private schools in the state of Utah, they do not want to accept vouchers because that becomes government money and then they become tied to the government and teach what the government wants them to teach. What happens to the private schools then?
    Sorry, one more item. Don't we want qualified teachers to teach our children? The private schools do not have to have certified teachers. Don't we want our teachers to be accountable for their teaching?
    I believe that the voucher system will demolish public schools and then our drop out rate would be even higher than we are seeing now.
    Vote AGAINST Referendum 1 on Nov. 6.

  2. First of all, there is no reason to believe any private school is better than every public school. Second, having taxpayers fund two school systems instead of one is hardly an efficient way to go. And you know, if the private school voucher system is enacted they will come back to the well and raise the voucher amounts. That $429 million cost is just the start.

  3. Anonymous, if I could adress a couple of things from my perspective.

    First of all, thanks for your service as a teacher. Teachers that tailor their teach to individuals are the teachers that make the most difference.

    As for money going to private entities... I am very concerned that some of my money which is ear-marked for education is being spent on dues for the UEA. There are a few aspects of unions that I think could be honorable, but the UEA seems to have magnified all the bad. Perhaps top of the list is their involvement in the political process, rather than focussing on the needs of the children.

    Personally I would prefer a plan that gives each kid an allowance to be spent at a school of their choice, and have all the money go from the bottom up, instead of the top down, but can't see that plan getting past any of the beurocracy.

    As for teacher accountability - You mentioned that private schools are not required to hire certified teachers. Since getting my degree, I'm not sure how valuable that piece of paper is, except for proving I can sit through 4 years of garbage. By allowing schools to hire the best teachers regardless of certification, you create a competitive environment that would benefit good teachers like yourself in the long run. Those teachers in it for the wrong reasons will get weeded out, instead of being protected by the beurocracy.

    The other argument with which I have trouble agreeing is that most families can't afford private schools even with the vouchers. I am not wealthy by any means, and probably could not afford it myself, but for those families in the higher tax bracket, it would only seem fair that they be able to get a little of their investment in the system though a voucher.

    Finally, I would hope that vouchers would create more accountability at all levels of the system. Teachers definitely need to get paid more, administrators and other district people are necessary but most of them are way over paid. Finally the story of the Weber couple who swindled a school district out of millions of dollars is perhaps the biggest red flag I have seen that the money in public education is being directed to where is should be.

    I could go on and on, but I'll stop there.

    I and any I can encourage to, will be voting for Referendum 1 as the first step towards a better school system for my kids.

  4. Anonymous:
    Two issues with your post:

    1) The argument (Another issue I have is my tax dollars funding a program that I don't approve of) is weak at best, because there are a whole list of programs that are funded by your tax dollars and my tax dollars that I am sure you would not approve of. Let me give you a big for instance in California:
    "California parents who don't want to see their children subjected to gender indoctrination will now have no alternative but to withdraw from the public education system – which they will be required to fund, nonetheless," Carlson said.

    This quote is in reference to SB 777 now law in California, which among other things will ban the use of the words "mom" and "dad" from school discussion, text books, etc. Many Californians are outraged that their tax dollars will be funding a system (public schools no less) that has turned completely anti-family. In short they (California taxpayers) are paying a lot for something they don't approve of.

    2) Dropout Rates: Actually the facts show very clearly that where voucher programs are implemented graduation rates go up in both private and especially in public schools. The correlation is strong showing how competition through vouchers begins to almost immediately affect graduation rates.

    Source: Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters, "The Effect of Residential School Choice on Public High School Graduation Rates," Manhattan Institute Education Working Paper 9 (Apr. 2005).


  5. Richard,

    No private school has to be better than a public school. That's not the point, although it will likely happen.

    Please don't tell me that you can't see that $7,500 - $2,000 = $5,500. So when compared with the money left over when a child leaves, the $429 million is minuscule--which is a sum of all the $2,000 charges that are estimated in a most extreme scenario--to the $1 billion plus that the state will have left over to apply back to the smaller public schools, among other things.

    Your taxation/efficiency statement is a red herring.


    Private schools DO deal with children with disabilities, especially with the Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship vouchers passed by the Utah Legislature in 2005.

    Some kids DO drop out of school because their parents don't care, but maybe they wouldn't if they had other options, which is what this article is illustrating.

    You're right that some private schools will not accept vouchers at all because of the strings attached. That's their right, but they deny access to all equally.

    I hope that the public schools are more vital than you seem to give them credit for. It's hard to imagine that there will be a mass exodus from the public schools if vouchers pass. I think that there will always be an influx of new students (larger families, people moving from out of state) and so vouchers will help reduce the rate at which the public schools grow.

    I agree with Urban Koda that vouchers will cause more and better accountability in all types of education if vouchers pass.


    Thanks for your points, and especially point #2, because it seems to substantiate my assumptions. Also, I'm not sure what California is thinking by passing SB 777, and I'll have my eye on that, too, as it develops.

  6. Frank,
    Wow, I'm surprised. I can't believe you've gone back to the $1 billion in savings figure to try to make a point.

    The $429 million in costs is most certainly not an "extreme scenario". On the other hand, the $1 billion in savings figure is. Let's take a look at how we can get to those two numbers.

    $429 million in costs is an average of 16500 $2000 vouchers per year over the 13 year phase in period. This number, although maybe a somewhat high estimate for the phase in period, is certainly within the realm of possibility.

    To get to over a billion dollars in savings, you basically have to assume that all 16500 of those voucher recipients actually save taxpayers money (16500 x $5500 x 13 = $1.17975 billion). This is of course a ridiculous assumption, seeing as how every year an entire new grade of private school students becomes eligible to receive the voucher. This includes those students who would never have gone to public schools, regardless of receiving a voucher. These students obviously do not save taxpayers any money at all since they never would have cost taxpayers anything in the first place. They are only a net cost to the program.

    (I know you know all of this Frank, hence my surprise at your use of the figures. I feel compelled to point out the fallacy of your argument for the benefit of others who may read it.)

    I think you are incorrect in charcterizing Richard's taxation/efficiency argument as a red herring. Frankly, the red herring regarding the fiscal impact of vouchers comes from voucher supporters when they imply that vouchers save taxpayers significant amounts of money, without telling us about the unrealistic assumptions needed to achieve those "savings".

  7. Don,

    I see your point about an entirely new grade of private school students becomes eligible. But where does the 16,500 figure come from? I went back over my previous articles about vouchers (with all the comments), as well as the Legislative Fiscal Analysis, and can't find that number. I'm thinking this is the number of Utah kids currently in private schools, but I'm not sure.

  8. Don,

    Okay I think I have yet another of my blind spots corrected. I read Jeremy's Jeremiad, and here's what I wrote there after another light bulb went on:

    it's ironic and somewhat embarrassing to admit that in all the discussions we've had here and at Simple Utah Mormon Politics, I never thought about the one important point that Green Jello brings up. Let me attempt to rephrase it for my benefit--Despite the fact that current private school students are not allowed to use vouchers, after 13 years there will NO LONGER BE any such students, so by then ALL students will be able to use vouchers to go to a public school. This is why, then, after year 13 it becomes an effective net cost to the state of Utah.

    You already disabused one of my false notions over on SUMP (about the fact that the legislature DID NOT earmark money saved back to the public schools). Now I've seen the light on another issue.

    Stay tuned for an important announcement...

  9. Frank,
    To get to the 16500 figure I just took the $429 million and extrapolated backwards using the average voucher amount of $2000 over 13 years (13 x $2000 x 16500 = $429 million.) It's just an average representation over the phase in period (I don't have the LFA's numbers for all 13 years*) to show how the number is feasible, or in other words, not extreme.

    *If anyone does have this information and it is available online, I'd appreciate a link. :)

    Regarding your second response, may I safely assume that you will no longer be using the $1 billion in savings figure? I certainly hope so! ;) (oh, and thanks. :) )

  10. Yes, it appears the $1 billion savings figure is out the window, although I still have some thinking to do...about whether I still support vouchers in their current form....

  11. Thinking . . . that's all I can hope for Frank. ;)

    That's really my only goal, to get people thinking about what this bill does and whether or not it truly fits their ideological goals for vouchers. I'm sure for many people it does. They look past the bill's many flaws with the faith that the Legislature will "fix" them. I don't have any hopes of convincing those people of the weakness of this bill.

    But there are others who can step aside from their ideological pedestal and who, when faced with the realities of this bill, can see that it will not come close to doing what its most fervent backers say it will. That in fact, it could actually harm the public while costing a great deal. It certainly will not do the most good for the least amount of public money. This bill, IMHO, is truly horrible public policy. We can do better! We must do better, for everyone's sake.

    Even if Referendum 1 is defeated, the voucher/school choice movement will go on. I am one "voucher opponent" who is not philosophically opposed to "vouchers" in general. We need to target a program to help those who truly need it, and match it with the proper accountability measures for taxpayers money. I envision something along the lines of the Children First Utah scholarships, where individuals would apply for taxpayer funded scholarships based on desire and need. I could see myself supporting such a measure in the future.

    I'm looking forward to your "important announcement."

  12. I'm still thinking--and putting my thoughts down--but it's making my brain hurt, partially because I'm going to have to make some assumptions about the assumptions that the Legislative Fiscal Analyst made...

    I like your thought about the Children First Utah scholarships. But how would this be different from the current (potential) law, if Children First were run by the state government?

  13. What assumptions are you trying to make about the LFA? Maybe I can help?

    The biggest difference in a program I would support is that it would have a relatively low income cutoff where no scholarship would be available (hence "desire" and "need"). The amounts would also be much higher for those who truly need it, allowing for a much greater degree of "choice" for low income families.

    As with any program that uses public funding, I foresee many logistical challenges to implementing such a program. Scholarships awarded directly to parents would open up the door to a great deal of fraud, probably even moreso than the current voucher law. But with careful studying of other programs across the country, a bipartisan, collaborative effort from the Legislature and majority support from the public, I believe a viable and accountable program could be achieved.


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