Get Vouchers Right Next Time

It’s not often that I get to see Utah featured in a nationally syndicated column about a positive policy debate. Usually when Utah makes the national news it’s for things like a mine disaster, raging wildfires, or polygamy. Today John Stossel wrote about the voucher issue in Utah. Naturally he is in favor of vouchers – like I am, but the Utah legislature was kind enough to give us such a bad proposal that it’s a no-win situation for those who favor parental choice. It’s easy for people outside of Utah to say “take the leap and give parents more options” but those of us inside Utah who have studied the issue know that it’s not that clear-cut.

If we get vouchers (which does not look very likely right now) we will have a poor implementation that will be used to ridicule the idea elsewhere while we pay the price for our mistakes. If we vote against Referendum 1 – as I plan to – our votes will be painted as opposition to parental choice.

Let me clear up the message of the vote I will cast next week on this. I am in favor of parental choice and I think that vouchers can be a useful vehicle to encourage parental choice but HB148 and HB174 do not make for a good implementation of vouchers. I hope that their defeat next week will not discourage those who want more parental choice. I hope instead that it will force them to come up with a much better solution. Besides learning something about crafting good law, they can also learn something about engaging in shady politics. Parents for Choice in Education should clean up their act or be shunned. They need to do a much better job at defending the issue if they are involved and they need to avoid the political trickery that is more a smear on them than a strategy for changing public opinion.

About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.
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18 Responses to Get Vouchers Right Next Time

  1. Jason Black says:

    My comment is not specific to vouchers, but to the lousy laws that can be created by legislative compromise. Compromise, in general, is a good thing. But frequently when politicians compromise, it is solely for their ability to amass a record of pushing through legislation, even if the laws have been completely crippled through compromises.

    Vouchers may be a good idea, but if the only way for a voucher law to take effect is for the thing to be stripped down and twisted until it’s a bad policy, then there’s no point in pushing it through. But at the end of the day, the pro-voucher people can go to their constituents and say, “I made vouchers happen”, while the anti-voucher people can tell their folks, “I fought against vouchers, and made sure they won’t be very effective.” Politicians get to win, regardless of which side they’re on, while you and me suffer with the pathetic laws that get enacted.

    It’s time for our politicians to compromise in meaningful ways, and to simply walk away from legislation that is so castrated by compromise that it’s not worth pushing through. I’d much rather have a representative that makes nothing happen than one that allows garbage to pass as law.

  2. David says:

    I have to agree with you. There is definitely a place for compromise in politics, but something is not always better than nothing.

    Compromise might have played a part in making the voucher bills so bad, but I think that arrogance in our legislature played at least as large a role in this one. Utah is so dominated by one party that the legislature sometimes acts as if they don’t need to listen to anyone because they are all secure in their seats.

    That same dominance by one party has landed us with a governor who is politically worthless.

  3. Jesse Harris says:

    The spin started before the ink of the last referendum signature had dried. Almost immediately, Utahns for Public Schools said that 124,000 people wanted to vote against vouchers, not vote on vouchers. I don’t doubt that whatever the results of the vote, it will be spun in a similarly dishonest fashion.

  4. David says:

    That’s why it’s important for those of us who support the idea but not the implementation to start explaining our position early and as publicly as possible.

  5. Jeremy says:


    Do you think many of the people who signed the referendum petition wanted vouchers to be the law? If so they must be kinda dumb.

    What type of spinning are you anticipating? Are you trying to discourage people who have studied this legislation and found it to be counter-productive from voting against it because others will try to score political points from election results?

  6. David says:

    The spinning I anticipate is that a vote against Referendum 1 will be equated with a vote against any voucher/parental choice type of move in education. There are some of us who like the idea but not this implementation – as I said in the post: “I hope that their defeat next week will not discourage those who want more parental choice. I hope instead that it will force them to come up with a much better solution.”

  7. Jesse Harris says:

    I’m seeing both the potential for both the spin that David cites and the spin on the other side that approval means no changes would be needed for the current law. Either way, we lose.

  8. David says:


    You are absolutely right. Approval would be spun as the law not needing changes – that’s why I’m voting against it and hoping that losing will bring a better attempt at the voucher law.

  9. rmwarnick says:

    How and why did Utah get selected as the laboratory for this national experiment in school privatization? At our own expense, I might add.

  10. David says:

    That’s a good question. I have heard it suggested that our low rate of private school attendance might be part of the reason. Other states have much higher percentages of the population enrolled in private schools.

  11. voiceofutah says:

    I think Jeremy has a point. When I went door to door with voucher petitions, I never once heard, “Well, I support vouchers, but I want people to be able to vote.” I only heard, “No, thanks, I’m in favor of vouchers,” or “I’m against vouchers, where do I sign?” So, yes, the wording about the 124,000 was poor, but the sentiment was probably pretty close.

  12. David says:

    I’d say that there is little cause to argue with what was said regarding the referendum petition, but there may have been some signers of the petition, and there are definitely some who will vote “no” on Referendum 1, who support vouchers in principle but have to vote “no” because of the flaws of HB148 and HB174. That’s where the spin comes in. Those who oppose vouchers in principle will want to spin every “no” vote as a vote against vouchers of any implementation.

  13. Daniel says:

    re: Jason Black
    The voucher bills were a result of 8 years of work. The sponsors obviously thought that it was a good enough product, even with the compromises. I doubt the sponsors would have pushed the bills if they would have known that this referendum and almost certain defeat would be the result.

    re David:
    This is the end of vouchers in Utah for a long time. That’s how the referendum will be spun. Nuanced decisions for voting no, like David’s justifications, will be lost.

    It’s sad because Utah schools are only average according to the standardized test such as the National Assessment on Educational Progress.

    Only 39% of 4th graders are proficient at Math (over the past 15 years this has dramatically improved, but Utah’s improvement has mirrored that national trend). Only 30% of 8th grades read proficiently at their grade level. Only 33 percent of 4 and 8th graders are proficient at their grade level in science. A mere 20 percent of 4th graders write proficiently at their grade level.

    This is sad. Many argue that Utah didn’t need vouchers because its schools are “good enough.” These numbers don’t suggest that Utah schools are good enough. It suggests that Utah’s schools need help–a lot of help. The voucher program was one way to create new incentives to hopefully produce better academic results. That is obviously debatable, but this is the end of the line for a voucher program for this generation of Utah’s students.

  14. David says:

    Better to not support the ugly politics of PCE and the high future costs of these vouchers than get the benefit of vouchers now while implicitly accepting the poor tactics of PCE and then try to close the financial drain of the current voucher laws.

  15. Jesse Harris says:

    And what do you know? PCE’s hired gun pirate used his “letter of marque” to send more spam just moments ago.

  16. David says:

    Obviously they have not learned their lesson about ugly politics yet. I can’t say that I’m surprised.

  17. I am pretty sure that the lost vote will stomp on all attempts at parental choice legislation in Utah for at least a decade.

    The referendum that we voted down was actually pushed by the anti-voucher people. This method is likely to be used in other states to stop debate.

    In that regard, I would suggest other states interested in vouchers actually start the process with a referendum. The referendum would simply authorize the government to come up with a mechanism of vouchers or tax credits to aid parental choice. Otherwise the vote will always be lost on the specifics of the bill and not on the question of parental choice.

  18. David says:

    Perhaps another lesson to be learned from the voucher debate should be that trying to ram legislation through before building the popular support can have the effect of setting back your efforts in very crippling ways.

    I would hate to see the options of more parental choice silenced for a decade while we continue to struggle with improving our public education.

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