Voucher Question

I received an email from the Utah Technology Council urging me to vote for vouchers today. They claimed that the issue has been clouded by “misinformation”. Yet one issue has not been answered for me since the start. Even when I posted this query on Steve Urquhart’s “Politicopia” before he proposed the bill, it was essentially laughed at by proponents.

Utah code defines a “private school” as having a minimum of 40 students and at least one teacher with a degree or “special training”. It is not specific as to what defines “special training”. If this is all that is required to setup a private school, what is preventing a minimum windfall of $20,000 going to Lafferty bin Koresh to indoctrinate their children with state funds?

When I asked this question of Senator Curtis S. Bramble at a recent Alta Club debate on the issue, he responded that the text of the vouchers law has an anti-discrimination clause written into it. However, I doubt many parents are desperate to get their kids into the next Jonestown Middle School. Given that the reverse is also true, that the government can not discriminate, it brings into doubt that there can be any destination screening of government funds. When Senator Bramble was confronted with this issue, he laughed that public schools are already indoctrinating children (is that what this issue is really about?) and that non-secular universities like BYU and Notre Dame get government funds already through Pell Grants. Yes, but adults go to BYU and Notre Dame not children. These funds are also based on individual need, not the fact that you’ve got 40 kids and someone with “special training”.

You can teach your children all sorts of wild ideology, just as long as you do it on your own dime. I don’t see how vouchers does that.

9 thoughts on “Voucher Question

  1. If a family receives money from the government, in the form of food stamps or housing assistance or heating assistance or income tax credits, does the government now get veto power on where that family can spend money? Is that family now disallowed from donating money to the Mormons or the Catholics or the Jonestown Middle School?

    Would you have this same objection if we were talking about education tax credits instead of education vouchers? They reach the same end (money in a parent’s pocket instead of in the state treasury), but vouchers help poor families more than tax credits can. Do you oppose ANY state money going into a pocket where it could possibly be spent on something you disagree with?

    Your objection to vouchers would be equally valid as an objection against the state for hiring a follower of Lafferty bin Koresh as a janitor. We’d be spending state funds on lunacy! In other words, your objection, while understandable, can’t be a factor in the decision in a free society.

  2. You are reading the proposed law correctly. Teachers in the voucher schools do not have to have college degrees or meet any of Utah’s teacher certification standards.

    It’s up to you if that is all right in terms of who teaches your children because you will not have anything other than the word of the school that their teachers are qualified.

    To answer Brad, yes the government does tell you how you can spend housing or higher education or food “vouchers.” Please keep in mind that when the “government” gives food stamps, those only pay for government approved nutritional food. i.e. you can’t buy alcohol or tobacco with food stamps, but you can buy milk. Section 8 housing for which federal government “vouchers” are used have to meet very specific health and safety standards.

    Similarly, federal Pell grants are only awarded to students who attend accredited institutions of higher education.

    The proposed Utah voucher law does not require any kind of accreditation for K-12 schools that will be getting the vouchers. No standards for teachers, no accepted standards for financial accounting, health and safety, etc.

    It’s apples and oranges. That could be part of the problem with this particular proposed law.

  3. although i agree that it will take the participation of the state government to improve the quality of our public schools, i do not think this voucher program is the answer. i am voting against the referendum. when you take money away from the public schools, disadvantaged children will suffer. the tuition for most private schools in the state of utah is way beyond $3,000 a year. a family living on a below level annual income would not benefit from a $3,000 voucher.

  4. Catherine and DD have misunderstood my argument. Sorry if I wasn’t clear. Let me try again. If Lafferty bin Koresh runs a grocery store, would it be wise for the government to prevent me from using my food stamps to buy approved items there? If I’m a poor family and I actually receive money from the government in the form of an income tax credit (which has no strings attached), should the government pass a law preventing me from donating that check to institutions it finds ideologically objectionable?

    I assert that it would be very wrong for the government to inject itself in either case. We’ve seen that go wrong far to many times in our own history to trust that it wouldn’t go wrong again.

    We believe it is a public good for people to have food to eat, so we help poor families buy food. We’ve chosen as a society to do that, and I generally agree with that policy. We choose to give out food stamps that can be used at private grocery stores. We don’t need to set up government grocery stores to meet this need. We trust the family to make the decision about where to spend the money. As we should.

    We have decided that it is in the public interest for children to be educated. We agree to pay for that as a society. Is it really so wrong, as so many have asserted, to allow families to choose how this public money should be directed on behalf of their children?

    I realize the food stamps and education vouchers are not directly parallel. Few things are. But I hope the similarities are sufficient to make my point about the benefits of vouchers and how it would be bad to apply ideological tests to vendors who do business with the government. (Pete already noted that some ideological tests are legal, such as rules barring discrimination based on race, for example. It appears those issues are addressed in this voucher legislation.)

  5. Schools do not have to take vouchers. So, not every school will be open to this program, some have already said they will not.

    Very few families will have any ability to take advantage of vouchers. A family of 5 living on even $50,000 per year probably doesn’t have $3,000 to $5,000 per child (so $9,000 to $15,000) extra to be able to spend on the difference between vouchers and private school costs.

    I think that this would result in a caste system, where only poor, disadvantaged children go to public school, middle class kids go to voucher private schools, and the elite go to non-voucher private schools.

    Also, among the lower priced but good private schools, there’s already a wait. I checked into putting my children into St. John’s a couple years ago, and there was a waiting list about 2 years long.

    So, I also think that if demand for private schools increase, low-quality private schools will pop up everywhere. That’s definitely not what we need.

    Fix the public schools. Vouchers will only make them worse.

  6. I’m not comfortable with the reliance placed by some on HB 148’s anti-discrimination clause, which incorporates by reference 42 U.S.C. 2000d. In general, federal anti-discrimination provisions do not apply to religious institutions. Although IANAL, on reading the specific section, I’m having a difficult time seeing how it is intended to apply to private schools at all, as the section discusses the administration of federal programs, and how the federally assisted programs cannot discriminate based on “race, color, or national origin”. No mention is made (in that section) of discrimination on religion, family status, economic status, political views, disability, ….

    On a different subject, I like your argument about federal assistance for _adults_ at private (religious) universities. However, it isn’t wholly accurate: I was a “minor” for the first year-and-a-half of my university experience (yes, I started at 16), and during that time received assistance from three distinct federal programs.

  7. Bradley, the difference remains between the individual and the group. Helping an individual get food, or paying someone for a job is starkly different than the scenario I presented. Without much effort whatsoever, name-your-extremist-enclave can receive from $40,000 to $160,000 (with the minimum requirements) just for continuing doing what they’re doing.

    I like to believe that the intentions behind vouchers are good, and not just blind execution of Friedman’s ideology, but the law of unintended consequences is a doozey here.

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