The Real Voucher Question

In a very compelling argument against vouchers, Douglas Alder asks Are universal school vouchers consistent with Utah’s values? For the first time I had an argument that made me consider voting against vouchers. Simply put, if you believe the answer to that question is “no” then you should vote against Referendum 1. If you feel that the answer is “yes” then you should vote for it. Here is the portion of Doug’s argument that made me really consider my position:

Utah has a rather unique history regarding public schools and should be careful about it.

Between 1850 and 1880, most schools in Utah were run by the local villages. Between 1880 and 1890 the LDS leaders decided to turn their schools over to the state of Utah as part of the preparation for statehood. Later they decided to do the same thing with their high schools (academies).

The result is that today more than 90 percent of the elementary and secondary students in the state attend public schools. Thus students of all abilities and all incomes and all ethnic identities go to school together. There are a few private schools, so parents determined on the private option have that choice. Charter schools also provide choice.

Vouchers would encourage the dividing of students – particularly sending bright students to settings away from mainline youth and away from state standards. They would create “gated community” schools for the privileged. In a recent Deseret Morning News editorial, Don Gale argued that public schools are not set up to aid the elite. Vouchers are.

In many states a considerable percentage of students attend private schools. Often the result is a distinct separation from their mainline contemporaries. Thus, schools become a tool of social segregation.

I think that the history of Utah Public School as outlined above and the culture that had resulted from that history is an asset to our state. After considering my stated position on vouchers I have concluded that I already agreed that we should be supporting the public schools. However, my reason for supporting vouchers included concerns about a monopolistic attitude among public school administrators (at the higher levels – I’m not talking about the principals of individual schools) and the intrusive hand of the federal government in our local school system. Those concerns still stand.

Interestingly there was another anti-voucher article by Kory Holdaway, a state legislator and public school teacher, who states that even the members of the NEA have concerns about the top-down heavy-handedness of NCLB. Once the voucher issue is settled I would love to see the NEA take a stand against Congress passing bills like NCLB. I’m looking for more than the perpetual complaint that it’s under-funded. It’s time for the education lobby to state unequivocally that NCLB goes too far even if it were fully funded.

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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4 Responses to The Real Voucher Question

  1. Good insights David

    I’ve argued before about the value of bringing kids of different values and belief systems together. In my home town up to the late 1920’s, there was a great rift between Mormons and non-Mormons who lived in parralell communities. It was a football coach, who later became a school administrator, who by recruiting the Italians, Greeks, Yugoslavs and others to his team and getting them attending school on a more regular basis that helped bring the community together.

    I’ve heard others express fear about the monopoly of public ed creating a homogenous culture. However, even within the realm of public ed, I don’t see it. Even public schools are prone to cliquishness and dividing into factions. Creating gated communities as you refer to them won’t improve the situation, only exacerbate them.

  2. David says:

    Thanks. I always enjoy your input Obi wan.

  3. Daniel says:

    Contrary to Don Gale, anyone that says that vouchers are set up to aid the elite hasn’t looked at how they are used elsewhere around the country. For example, here’s a spreadsheet that summarizes the random assignment studies on school choice that have been done around the country and I don’t see how Gale or anyone else would say these programs are to help the elite:

    Also, part of my time growing up was with kids going to private schools. In fact my three best friends all went to different private schools while we went to public schools. Speaking from experience I never saw any social segregation between us and them.

  4. David says:

    I never said that vouchers were set up to aid the elite – I don’t believe that they are. Nor do I fear a great social segregation. My wife went to private school growing up. The voucher issue is still one of values rather than finances.

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