Recently I was asked to provide another view of the proposed current legislation regarding school vouchers. On Utah Public Radio's - Access Utah program the author of the current proposed legislation bill, Stephen Urquhart, shared his perceived rationale for the proposed bill and belief that Utah's Taxpayers should fund private education through a voucher which would pay part of the tuition for a child to attend a private school.
I wanted to share again the concerns I perceive supporters of public education have with supporting the current proposed bill, which is reported to be very similar to a bill proposed in last years session..
Vouchers seem to be unconstitutional. The Utah Constitution says there will be one system of public education under the general control and supervision of the State Board of Education. In a lawsuit over charter schools, the Utah Supreme Court ruled, "The legislatureÃ¯Â¿Â½cannot establish schools and programs that are not open to all the children of Utah and free from sectarian control, and it cannot establish public elementary and secondary schools that are not free of charge, for such would be a violation of articles III and X of the Utah Constitution. School Boards vs. Board of Education, Utah Supreme Court, 2001.
Vouchers are subsidies for the wealthy. The proposed amount in each of the past proposed bills and this bill is far less than would be necessary for a parent to send their child to private school - the proposed amount present on UPR by Senator Urquhart was under $3,000. Given the amount of money proposed for a voucher makes it almost impossible for low income or even middle class families to participate without contributing a large amount from their own pocket.
Vouchers would not equally support families and children of rural Utah. Since there are very few private school choices in rural Utah and the cost of a private education is usually well beyond the proposed voucher amount, there would be very few in rural Utah that could take advantage of the vouchers. This would cause taxpayers, both rural and low-income to pay extra taxes for those in metropolitan areas and those who already can afford the extra tuition for private education to send their children to private school.
Finally there is very little need or demand for private education in Utah. Utah has good schools. Parents are not clamoring to escape Utah public schools. They are clamoring for more funding for existing public schools and the quality teachers and programs they have come to expect. Utah is dead last in per pupil expenditures in the nation and I believe that we can ill afford to pay for private education, when we are not now adequately funding public education.