NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

FREE TO CHOOSE IN UTAH

February 2, 2007

Another brick could soon fall from the Berlin Wall that surrounds America's failing public schools, as Utah's legislature considers what would be the first universally available statewide voucher program in America, says the Wall Street Journal.

The voucher bill passed out of committee earlier this week and is backed by Governor Jon Huntsman:

  • It would offer students who attend private K-12 schools from $500 to $3,000 in tuition reimbursement based on family income.
  • While Utah is known for its Mormon population, the biggest winners under the plan would be the state's growing Hispanic population, who haven't done well in general in Utah public schools.

As usual, local school boards and the state teachers union (the Utah Education Association) are fighting the idea, claiming that it will "drain" money from public schools:

  • This hardly seems likely because the $9 million cost of the program is about 0.5 percent of total school spending.
  • And the voucher maximum of $3,000 is less than half the state per child public-school spending average of $6,325.
  • The voucher bill also allows Utah public schools to keep the difference between the voucher amount paid out to students who leave and the $6,325 per pupil average.

Vouchers are working in a handful of cities, such as Cleveland, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C.  Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush also promoted a statewide plan, until a liberal state court invented constitutional objections.  The evidence on student performance has mostly been favorable in these schools, and research by Harvard economist Carolyn Hoxby has found that the presence of vouchers has caused the public schools to improve their performance as well.

So let's hope Utah lawmakers stare down the opposition and give this statewide experiment a try, says the Journal.

Source: Editorial, "Free to Choose in Utah," Wall Street Journal, February 2, 2007.

 

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