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November 05, 2007

A Look at a Real-World Voucher Proposal

Last week's voucher debate was rooted mostly in the theoretical. So allow me to continue the discussion by pointing toward Utah, where voters will go to the polls tomorrow to either approve or reject a GOP-proposed referendum that would provide $430 million over 13 years for private school vouchers. In its first year, supporters are promising that 5,400 students will switch from public to private schools, even though there are only an estimated 4,000 available spots at existing private schools. Given that the initiative would underserve students in the first year alone -- parents would have to compete for spots -- and that all Utah families would be eligible, regardless of income level, whose children do you think will benefit? Supporters of the proposal claim new schools will open to meet the demand for private education, eventually serving 25,000 students. But with vouchers worth only between $500 and $3,000, what kind of education would such schools provide? Typical private school tuition in Utah is currently closer to $8,000 annually. And the average public school in the state spends $5,008 per pupil each year.

So the plan could very well prove to be unworkable, and even if fully implemented, could have little effect on the quality of education poor students receive. Utah voters -- not exactly liberal ideologues -- see through the rhetoric. According to a Salt Lake Tribune poll, only one-third of Utahns strongly support the voucher referendum, and only 6 percent cite "helping poor children" as a reason to support vouchers.

cross-posted at TAPPED


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