The citizens of Utah will determine in a statewide election Nov. 6, whether or not vouchers will be implemented. This is a landmark decision that deserves thorough consideration. The basic concern of course is that of meeting the education needs of all the children.
After serious consideration of the issues involved and the arguments for and against, it is my opinion, based on the following reasons, that Utah should not adopt a voucher system.
Public tax dollars should not be spent for private school education.
- All parents have the right to enroll their children in free public schools. It is their choice that they do not. The same situation exists with other public services, i.e. libraries.
- In the case of private schools sponsored by religions, administration of funds and accountability matters may raise issues related to the First Amendment.
While vouchers may help some low-income families enroll their children in private schools, it is unlikely that many will be able to do so, even at great sacrifice, based on the amount currently proposed.
Some believe education will be improved from the competition private schools would provide through vouchers. This reasoning is flawed.
- Adjustments that have already been embraced provide adequate approaches through which the education needs of students can be met. These include: (1) "Alternative Schools" established within school districts, (2) "Charter Schools" established outside of the regular school system, (3) Cooperation of public schools with parents in "Home Schooling," and (4) "Private Schools" as currently funded by private sources. In addition, public schools have well-established avenues for public involvement. Local boards of education are local citizens elected by other local citizens. Principals and teachers are open to contact as needed. Schools and their teachers hold individual parent-teacher conferences. Parent-Teacher associations are generally active in promoting improvements. Special commissions have been and can be established on a local or state level to study problem areas and make appropriate recommendations for changing the system.
- Vouchers would likely be divisive, causing contention over funds, students, programs, and claimed achievement.
- Vouchers do not provide real choice since they cannot guarantee to parents that their children will be admitted to the school of their choice.
Some argue that the public education system and citizens at large should not be concerned over the relatively small amount of funds currently proposed for vouchers, especially since they would come out of the General Fund rather than the Uniform School Fund. This reasoning is flawed.
The ordinary taxpayer is not greatly concerned from which pocket tax dollars for education come. The taxpayer mainly realizes that it is an additional amount of tax money spent for education.
If more tax money can be found for education, why not use it to improve the regular system? For years Utah has been near the bottom among the states in the amount spent per student.
The initial, relatively small amount proposed for vouchers is simply the "camel's nose under the tent." There would be continuing clamor for more funds needed to meet the real costs and for additional schools that may be established.
Lerue W. Winget, Ed.D, is the Associate Superintendent of Public Instruction, Emeritus in St. George.