More Voucher Debate

I talked about flawed/unbalanced arguments related to vouchers in Pick Your Poison. As more and more is written the issue fails to get clearer. However, one point that I cited (made by the anti-voucher camp) involves throwing out numbers to prove their point without backing up their numbers. In this case it was “the average cost of private school tuition is $8000/year so a $2000 voucher wouldn’t help lower income people cover the cost.” (no, that was not a direct quote.)

I now have the pro-voucher counter-argument which also throws out numbers without fully backing them up:

The lower a family’s income, the higher the voucher amount—from $3,000 down to $500. Clearly, this benefits low- and middle-income families more than wealthier families.

According to a Utah State survey of private schools, the average tuition for kindergarten through eighth grade is just $3,800. As much as $3,000 of that would be covered by a voucher, leaving a difference that could be managed by nearly any family.

So are vouchers up to $3000, or only $2000? And what is the average cost of private school tuition? ($3800 is less than half of $8000 so the difference cannot be ignored.) At least the pro-voucher group cites a “Utah State survey of private schools.” I’d like to see a link to the survey.

The anti-voucher numbers link to a Salt Lake Tribune article, but when I read the article those numbers never appear. The $8000 figure never appears, it only states that private school tuition ranges from $2200 to $15000 per year. There is a “snapshot of private school tuition in Utah” that shows 7 schools with tuition between $2200 and $5000 per year and 7 schools with tuition between $6000 and $15000 per year. I notice that 3 of the schools have tuition of $8000 per year, but that includes Catholic schools which are not eligible for vouchers because they discriminate based on religion in the admissions process. If the $8000 average is based on calculating the cost of the 14 schools listed (which may or may not be representative) then it should be noted that the outliers on the high end drastically skew the results.

Actually those 14 schools average out to $7000 per year, and if we toss the 3 that cost over $10000 per year and the catholic schools that can’t accept vouchers anyway the average goes down to $5000 meaning that more than half the tuition is covered by vouchers for the lowest income people at more than half the schools in the list. I did not intend for this to be a pro-voucher argument, but I find that the numbers from the anti-voucher side are totally unreliable so far. The figures they cite don’t appear in the article they reference and the numbers shown in the article they reference actually come closer to the pro-voucher numbers than the numbers published by the anti-voucher group.

The best arguments against vouchers seem to be the arguments that don’t depend on numbers – arguments about philosophy and personal opinion. These are valid arguments to make, but if the anti-voucher crowd wants to focus on bogus numbers instead they deserve to lose on this issue.

So far this has been a discussion about the arguments being made on the voucher issue. My personal stance on the issue is rather unique. I will be attempting to codify it in some understandable way. Stay tuned . . .

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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11 Responses to More Voucher Debate

  1. Jesse Harris says:

    Averages are a funny thing too. Is that average the mean or the median? Both of those are very different numbers and go a long way towards establishing where the majority of the numbers lie. In the case of private school tuition, I’m guessing that either side is using whichever numbers work better for them.

    Given the spread ($2,200 to $15,000) and the mean ($3,800), it seems that you’re correct that the high end of the spectrum skews the result. That’s like factoring in first class when determining the average cost of a coach airline ticket.

  2. David says:

    Exactly my point. I was trying to illuminate this faulty, biased logic that goes into the arguments on both sides of the debate. In the process I felt that the anti-voucher numbers were the most tainted. That says nothing of the other arguments, only about the numbers they are throwing around.

  3. Jeremy says:

    Lets just make the decision here on the data we’ll use based on the Tribune article. To keep you pro-voucher people happy we’ll eliminate the top three most costly private schools and to keep anti-voucher elements appeased we’ll remove the bottom three least costly.

    When you do that the average looks to be around $5000-$6000. Sound fair?

    I don’t think it matters since I think a subsidy of $10 is too much. You still don’t have a moral right to use my tax money to pay for your kid’s private school tuition.

  4. Jason Black says:


    Using your argument that it’s not right to use your tax money to subsidize a private education, does it not follow that you have no right to use the tax money of, say, a childless couple to pay for public education?

  5. David says:

    All I can say (based partly on other comments by Jeremy) is that Jeremy’s opinion is a perfectly valid opinion and I have no reason to try to talk him out of it any more than I have to hold that as my opinion.

  6. Jeremy says:


    Your wrong. Public schools benefit everyone…even those without any kids in public schools. We all benefit from a populous which has access to a free public education. Voucher schemes subsidize only those who use the vouchers…not society as a whole.

  7. David says:


    Your logic does not seem to work. Public schools benefit everyone by providing the opportunity for the populous to be educated. Insofar as vouchers provide access to education they also benefit everyone through the same logic.

    My understanding suggests that you are trying to argue that vouchers impede access to education – and thus do not benefit society. If that’s the case then you must make the case of why they impede the education of the populous.

  8. Jeremy says:

    I haven’t argued that vouchers impede access to education. They represent an entitlement above and beyond the responsibility of society to provide the free public education which benefits all of us. Vouchers are a subsidy which exclusively benefits the few who decide the public education system isn’t for them for one reason or another.

    I think anyone who wants to put their kids in private school or any other alternative to public schools should be free to do so and pay for it themselves. I don’t think they should be entitled to a portion of my tax dollars to pay for it.

    Sorry if I wasn’t clear in earlier comments.

  9. David says:

    Perhaps the confusion is on my end. How is public education more of a help to society than any other method of education?

    The money spent on public education benefits society by giving all people access to education. If we had no public education system, but instead taxed people to provide tuition for those who could not afford it at the private schools would that be the same benefit to society? (providing access for everyone to education)

    Vouchers seem to be a hybrid between those two scenarios. They add an element of choice in education for those who otherwise had no choice besides public schools. Or am I missing something in your thinking?

    I’m not trying to be picky here – I either don’t understand you or else I do understand you and see vouchers as a natural alternative/compliment to public schooling

  10. Jeremy says:

    I have struggled to understand the draw this voucher plan provides to so many supposed conservatives who bitch about every other government entitlement we saddle taxpayers with. What is it about this plan that makes it better than food stamps? Is it that the vast majority of the likely recipients of this entitlement don’t need the help? Does that make this plan a more morally acceptable use of tax dollars?

    I’d accept your contention about the value of a program like this if we transplanted our argument to Washington DC or some other locale where the public school system was actually broken. We’re in Utah. Our schools work. Why should we subsidize those who decide for one reason or another that their kids are too good for public schools? They should be free to pay for the “upgrade” themselves if they so choose but I don’t see why I should be saddled with the bill. How does society benefit when government takes my hard earned tax dollars to pay for your kid’s private school tuition?

  11. David says:

    Now I think I understand you. You believe that if the vast majority of likely recipients don’t actually need the help that makes this use of tax dollars less morally acceptable. I would agree with you on that. The difference is whether I believe that the vast majority of recipients actually need the help. My belief has been that they will, but in fact I can’t prove that in advance.

    You argue that the schools in Utah work and that if we lived somewhere where they didn’t you would be supportive of vouchers. I can accept that position. I do find it ironic that the major groups opposing vouchers are the same groups that are always saying that our schools are underfunded. If our schools are working then they must not be as desperately underfunded as we are constantly told.

    For myself, I don’t think our school system is totally broken, but I don’t see it moving in the right direction either. Part of the draw of vouchers, for me, is that they would be a wakeup call to the public school administrators (say, district level and above) that we are willing to leave if they don’t change direction.

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