Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Utah has education vouchers: why liberals should embrace the change.

Utah has become the first US state to introduce a full school choice program for students. Of course the real beneficiaries of state education have never been the students but the unionized educators who see public schooling as way to transfer wealth from parents and taxpayers to teachers and bureaucrats. Teachers unions and the Democratic lapdog opposed giving parents choice in regards to schooling.

Under the new legislation, which has been signed by the governor and is now law, parents will be able to claim a voucher of between $500 and $3000 to help send their children to private schools. Voucher values are higher for lower income parents than for higher income parents.

The flaw is the bill is that it excludes anyone now attending a private school. Ideally it should also attach all education funding to the students and have the funds follow the student. School districts that do poor jobs would see funding cut as students abandon the failed schools for more successful ones.

A particularly stupid remark came from state Senator Gene Davis, a Democrat, who said: “It’s about taking taxpayer dollars and giving them to private industry.” Really? Then so do food stamps for the poor which Democrats support. Welfare recipients are given other people’s money to spend in privately owned grocery stores. They don’t spend that money down at the city hall canteen.

Democrats don’t seem particularly worried if welfare cheques are spent with the crack dealer of the beneficiaries choice? They aren’t stopping taxpayer funds, via welfare recipients from going to the local liquor store. Now why is it that they are so concerned about whether parents spend their money on good schooling if they don’t worry about how welfare recipients spend their money? Could the difference be that the teacher’s unions pour millions of dollars into the Democratic Party. Democrats are pro-poor unless, of course, they get more money from wealthy unions and then they’ll sell out the poor in a flash.

At least with school vouchers the parents are given back some of their own money to spend at the school of their choice.

This might help solve one problem. A state legislator is trying to use the power of the state to prevent students at schools from forming a Gay/Straight Alliance on campuses. There are 14 such student groups in Utah already.

Tim Beagley, a former member of the Utah Board of Education argues that the legislators can now stop trying to micromanage the schools.

Legislators can start by killing some bills currently before them. For example, they no longer need to tell districts how to elect their board members. If parents don't like how their district works, they can leave. No government oversight is required. In their own words, people can vote with their feet.
They don't need to regulate school clubs. If parents don't like the clubs at their school, they can choose another education vendor. They don't need to tell schools what to do if students are truant. If you don't approve of the way your school handles problem children, you can now take your child to a school that is more to your liking.
They don't need to regulate what teachers say in the classroom. If you don't like what your teacher is telling you or your child, you can go somewhere else.
After they cut the red tape from this year, they can start hacking away at regulations from prior years. At long last, we can abandon all that useless testing. Accountability now resides strictly with the parents, not the government. We can get rid of No Child Left Behind. We don't need UPASS, CRTs, NAEP or Iowa Basic Skills. Best of all, we can throw out that ridiculous high school graduation test. It only seemed to catch the students with severe disabilities or poor English skills anyway.
Parents can tell if their student is progressing adequately.
If the Legislature really believes in free markets and parental control of education, legislators need to step out of the way of both.

Now what I would like to see is for some of the good teachers in the schools to form their own educational co-op. A private school, contrary to the ranting nonsense from the Democrats, need not be a private company at all. The co-op can be formed by teachers and it can provide a decent education to students without the micromanagement of the state. Get the rules and regulations out of the way and let the teachers teach.

I would like to see good quality, secular, private schools teaching kids. Instead of bitching about private education mainly being run by religious groups secular liberals need to open their own schools. Consider this my friends on the Left. You can have a school where you don’t have to turn over the ID date to the military for recruitment as you do with state schools. You can have a school where you don’t have to have some fundamentalist nutter come in with his version of sex education -- as you do in the public schools. You don’t have to worry about some board of education forcing theology on you in the form of so-called Intelligent Design.

Now if I were a resident of Utah (and quite honestly I can’t envision that ever happening) I would be jumping up and down with joy especially if I were on the political Left (and where I am is anybody’s guess). Here are the facts. Utah is a Theopublican state and it will be a Theopublican state for a long time. In a state system of education that means the Theopublicans will be running the system. They will decide what is taught, how it is taught, what texts to use, etc. Now here is your chance to have a school with different values. Use it.

So find a few teachers. Check out the local United Church of Christ congregation and see if they have a church big enough to house a school during the week. Go to the various liberal congregations and organizations in the state who will be just as unhappy with Right-wing controlled schools as you. Now you have some students. Use those vouchers to help cover the costs. Education doesn’t have to be expensive to be good. Here is your chance to run a school by your own values and show that it works.

Consider a classroom with 25 students. Assume they are lower class students qualified for the full voucher of $3000. That is $75,000. That ought to cover a salary for the teacher, school books and pay the church something for the use of their facilities. If the church can hold five classes of that size you have a budget of $375,000. I can see with that sort of income you should be able to run a fair school if you aren’t wasting funds on lots of bureaucrats who don’t teach. And that is assuming no income from the parents, no donations from local groups or businesses, etc.

I think this is a prime opportunity for those of us who are secular humanists to get the kids out of the hands of the Theopublicans and give them the education they deserve. Stop whining and get that school going now.

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