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BYU professor opposes vouchers?

Last week, the Provo Daily Herald published an anti-voucher letter by BYU professor Richard Davis and two others.

Not surprisingly, they falsely claimed that vouchers would financially hurt public education. Click here to see our response to this claim.

However, we can't help but be shocked that a BYU professor would be opposed to vouchers, especially since tens of thousands of BYU students have received vouchers (Pell Grants, GI Bill) over the years. Surely, Professor Davis himself has taught hundreds of students that have received taxpayer funds to attend LDS Church-owned BYU.

Davis dismisses vouchers as a "government subsidy, a handout if you will". Unless of course those receiving the voucher subsidies are BYU students. Then it's OK.

When calling vouchers a subsidy, Davis doesn't mention that K-12 public education itself is a subsidy. The voucher subsidy -- expected to be about $1,900 per student -- is actually smaller than the Utah K-12 subsidy, about $7,500 per student in 2008 (figure includes capital and debt service). When students transfer from public schools to private schools, everyone benefits financially, including those families that keep their children in public schools and those families without children.

Davis also plays the elitism card by saying "Americans rejected a caste system where rich people go to private schools". Is Davis not aware that rich people live in rich neighborhoods and send their kids to neighborhood public schools that are much different/better than the public schools in poor areas? Isn't it common knowledge that schools in Alpine and Highland perform better than the schools in Rose Park and Glendale?

Voucher opponents argue that the Pell Grant-voucher analogy is apples and oranges because K-12 education is an entitlement and is compulsory and higher education is not. Actually, the entitlement argument justifies vouchers for K-12 more than it does for higher education. Since K-12 education is a constitutional entitlement, K-12 students are entitled to government funded education, whether that's through the traditional school system or through vouchers.
Mike Jerman
Andrew Stephenson

Shouldn't you have the decency to link to the pro-education letter by BYU professor Richard Davis if you are going to commenting on it? Then maybe people could read it for themselves and make up their own opinion. But then again when you guys are so afraid of us even getting to vote on how we educate our children then I guess you not linking to the article is rather predictable.

This letter by Richard Davis hits the issue right on the head. Vouchers is about the segregation of our primary education similar to what has happened in our colleges. The rich can afford to send their kids to Yale and Harvard while the rest of us are stuck in state colleges. As the public funding has been reduced for these state schools we have seen huge jumps in college tuition, watch the same exact dynamic occur with vouchers for primary education.

Marshall,

Sorry for the oversight on not linking the letter.

However, you're one to talk about suppressing others' views. You require people to register before they can comment on your blog, and we all know why this is. This is intended to reduce the number of comments, particularly opposing comments.

We, on the other hand, allow anyone to post on our blog, even anonymously, without having to register. We even allow comments that are more hostile than enlightening or accurate.

To your second point, in case you haven't noticed, public schools are already segregated, especially at the elementary school level. High income people live in high income neighborhoods and send their kids to neighborhood schools where very few poor kids go. It has always been that way and it always will be. Even public school choice doesn't address this since most public schools outside the east side of Salt Lake County are closed to outside enrollment because most Utah schools do not have room for outside enrollment.

Vouchers allow low income families to attend private schools that they otherwise could not afford. A $3,000 voucher will enable low income families to attend private schools, especially since most private school tuition is in the $4,000 to $5,000 range and many of these private schools offer financial assistance. On top of the schools' own financial assistance, Children First Utah also provides scholarships.

So, Marshall, are you then opposed to vouchers for students at private universities like BYU?

Marshall,

Here's another question for you.

Would you support vouchers if

- the voucher amount for poor families were increased

- the voucher amount for higher income families were reduced or even eliminated?

Still another question:

You have argued that the new/expanded private schools will be low quality. The only conclusions one could draw from your claims are the following:

- parents who transfer their children from public schools to "low quality" private schools don't know what's good for their children

- parents who transfer their children from public schools to "low quality" private schools don't care what's good for their children

- parents who transfer their children from public schools to "low quality" private schools are doing this because the "low quality" private schools are better -- for their own children specifically -- than the public schools are.

Bottom line: if the new/expanded private schools are "low quality", this means that vouchers are driving a demand for these "low quality" private schools in the first place. So, which of the above reasons is it?

Marshall,

You are wrong to connect rising college tuition costs with vouchers. Are you arguing that Pell Grants for students attending private universities is driving up tuition at public universities?

In Utah, the increase in college tuition has nothing to do with students getting Pell Grants to go to BYU. The increase in college tuition is due to the diversions of general fund dollars to Medicaid and highways. We've reported on this issue. Go to

http://www.utahtaxpayers.org/NEWSLTTR/PDFs/2007/february07.pdf

Oops,

Last comment should have been "are driving up" not "is driving up". Sorry for not getting the subject/verb agreement right the first time.

The link also didn't work out. Go to www.utahtaxpayers.org. Click newsletter archive, go the February 2007 newsletter and got to page 3.

I don't agree with a lot of what has been said. It seems to me that instead of finding new ways to spend tax money, you should be finding ways to keep the spending under control and wisely use the tax dollars.

It appears that a well educated populace holds better jobs, makes more money, spends more money in local businesses, pays more taxes, and commits less crime. So instead of creating more ways to spend education dollars we should be helping educate everyone, making all schools better, helping everyone.

I have been in the business sector as well as in education. There are a great many business men who, using their current business strategies, would totally ruin education. They forget that we educate all children, the well supported, bright, eager students as well as those who are not motivated or supported by families.

Private schools and charter schools do not have to accept or work with the students who have problems. It costs more money. They won’t work with them, they don’t have to.

The biggest problem in education is student and parent attitude. I guess that because education is free it is not valued. The many things said and done by opponents of public education do not help the situation. Children continually hear disparaging comments about education and teachers, then loose respect for teachers and education in general. It is easy to teach a respectful, motivated, bright student, but it is not so easy to teach a student who is the opposite, yet they need an education too.

The purpose of our blog is to create a community of like minded activists where creating a online identity is beneficial. We have never pretended to be a free for all where anyone can post anonymous comments, if that is what you want then we suggest you find another place. I also find it interesting that voucher advocates when commenting on blogspot sites rarely associate their comments with a username and usually blog under anonymous . Why are voucher advocates afraid to associate their comments with a username? It does create some sort of accountability but then when this voucher legislation has almost zero then I guess this is rather predictable.

I'll try to answer your questions one by one.

Are you then opposed to vouchers for students at private universities like BYU? - if I had my way I would stop primary education at grade 10 and then have free, public higher and vocational education from there based on those that qualify. This is similar to any idea proposed by the National Center on Education and the Economy in which I wrote a post about. Part of the reason India has caught up to us in so many areas is their willingness to invest more in all levels of education. We should be providing more investment in education no matter what the source.

I am not afraid of change and I don't accept the status quo but what bothers me is this idea that an unregulated market will always produce desirable results. This just isn't true, there are large parts of this nation that would never of had electricity if it were up to the free market, the interstate highways would have never been built, the free market does not work best in all situations, anyone that has been exposed to economic theory knows this but you guys try to pass this idea off all the time.

Would you support vouchers if

- the voucher amount for poor families were increased
- No and I think there is a good reason that a large amount wasn't included in the voucher legislation because then it would put more pressure on private schools like Challenger School to accept vouchers and it would also increase the scrutiny on how our tax dollars are being spent at these private schools. I just fundamentally disagree with our tax dollars being handed to a private enterprise with little or no oversight, I don't think vouchers are the solution to our educational issues.

- the voucher amount for higher income families were reduced or even eliminated? NO - I just fundamentally disagree with our tax dollars being handed to a private enterprise with little or no oversight, I don't think vouchers are the solution to our educational issues.

- parents who transfer their children from public schools to "low quality" private schools don't know what's good for their children

- parents who transfer their children from public schools to "low quality" private schools don't care what's good for their children

- parents who transfer their children from public schools to "low quality" private schools are doing this because the "low quality" private schools are better -- for their own children specifically -- than the public schools are.
- Of course parents know what is best for their children but do you think any parent in their right mind would not have health insurance for their kids but that is where the market has put a significant number of them? They can't afford what is best for their kids because the market has priced that option out of their reach. I always go back to my cheeseburger analogy, imagine you have 3 dollars and you want to buy your kid a cheeseburger, now you want to buy them the best cheeseburger around but you only have 3 dollars. It doesn't matter if you want to buy your kid something better than Burger King or Mcdonalds because you can only afford the lower quality. This is the same exact situation parents are going to run up against with vouchers.

Bottom line: if the new/expanded private schools are "low quality", this means that vouchers are driving a demand for these "low quality" private schools in the first place. So, which of the above reasons is it? - I think you have sold poor parents that they will be able to afford a much higher quality of private school than in reality they will be. I feel the quality schools that exist currently will quickly be priced out of the range of the poorer parents as additional supply is introduced. What I feel will ultimately happen is the poorer students will try private schools but only be able to afford the lower quality private schools and then eventually switch back to public schools as they realize these fly by night operations are not what they were sold. Then maybe people will realize that public schools are really better than people like you want us to believe. Then the only ones left using the vouchers will be the rich that could afford private schools in the first place. Vouchers will become a subsidy for the rich in Utah that feel their kids are too good to hang out with us regular folks.

If there is demand for these lower quality schools then we will be well on our way to creating a segregated school system with help from our tax dollars.

Are you arguing that Pell Grants for students attending private universities is driving up tuition at public universities? - What I was arguing is that without the fundamental investment of public money in our college system that even with vouchers (pell grands, GI bill) the free market has historically reacted with price increases. This is what the free market does, it prices a product accordingly, regardless if that product has a benefit to our country and state like having an educated electorate and a healthy economy.

Marshall,

1. Anonymous commenting is not unique to voucher supporters. It works both ways. Most negative comments on our blog are anonymous.

2. You really didn't answer my question about vouchers (Pell Grants) and BYU. You said "if I had my way...". Rarely do anyone of us ever get "our way." We have to play their cards that the system deals. So I'll repeat the question: vouchers for BYU students, yes or no?

3. We've never said the free market works in every instance. In some instances -- like education -- it does. In others, like police departments, it doesn't. Using your own argument, you could say that we should never rely on monopolies because in some instances they don't work. Would a government monopoly work in the steel industry? No (it's been tried in other countries and it was a huge failure.) But does that mean monopolies are never practical. No. It depends on the dynamics of the situation.

In some cases, monopolies are our only choice. In other cases, they're not. In some cases, government should be funded by user fees. In others, government should be funded by general taxes or a combination of both.

4. You oppose using tax dollars for private entities, but government does that all of the time. Food stamps, heating assistance, again Pell Grants, government research contracts, the list goes on.

5. You keep arguing that vouchers will only enable the poor to afford lower quality schools. Vouchers will allow the poor to afford Catholic schools and other religious schools, for example, especially when coupled with Children First Utah grants and financial assistance from Catholic schools. Are you saying that Catholic schools are low quality?

Besides, if vouchers don't allow the poor to afford quality schools, the solution would be to offer the poor a larger voucher. As long as that voucher is less than what we are spending in the public system (about $7,500 per student in FY08, including capital and debt service), we all come out ahead.

6. Since the voucher is means-tested, the existing private schools will have little opportunity to raise tuition without pricing out their existing customer base. If the Catholic schools say "we can raise our tution by $3,000 because of vouchers", the price equilibrium between existing supply and existing demand will be disrupted because existing private school students will get $500. Increasing tuition by $3,000 would incentivize existing rich private school students to go to public schools. Of course, the private schools know that so they won't do that.

7. You wrote "I feel the quality schools that exist currently will quickly be priced out of the range of the poorer parents as additional supply is introduced." Additional supply forces prices (tuition) down, not up. I assume you meant something else.

8. You wrote "the free market has historically reacted with price increases." Evidence clearly shows -- and I can provide this upon request -- that public K-12 spending per student in the U.S. and Utah has actually increased FASTER than inflation. Therefore, cost increases in the overall free market have been LOWER than government-run public education.

9. Finally, I hope you had a chance to read our report on the diversion of general fund dollars from higher education to roads and health. This is the primary reason higher education tuitions have increased, not because some students get vouchers to go to Westminster and BYU.

You should read the article from Emily Bingham Hollingshead - she hits it out of the park.

vouchers for BYU students, yes or no? - Yes even though I think the privatization of our higher education system hasn't been the greatest development. Many worthy students are being denied an opportunity to attend college because they can't afford it.

I am not suggesting we turn into Russia, that obviously didn't work but 1920s Laissez-Faire economics didn't work out so great either. I draw the line that the free market works well at providing non-infrastructure needs (I include education in there even though some do not). The market can and will marginalize those without the resources to pay for product, this might be fine when selling cheeseburgers but this would be a disaster with something as fundamental to our Democracy as an educated electorate.

Are you saying that Catholic schools are low quality? - NO but the available supply at these Catholic schools will quickly be used up.

I don't think tuition will go up by 3000 dollars but you have to concede that if no additional supply was introduced that prices would go up some due to the increased demand. Adding supply to an education system is much more difficult than voucher advocates want to admit. What is the average age of a quality college?

7. You wrote "I feel the quality schools that exist currently will quickly be priced out of the range of the poorer parents as additional supply is introduced." Additional supply forces prices (tuition) down, not up. I assume you meant something else. - I have argued before that demand will increase at a greater rate than supply with vouchers, that is what I meant.

8. You wrote "the free market has historically reacted with price increases." Evidence clearly shows -- and I can provide this upon request -- that public K-12 spending per student in the U.S. and Utah has actually increased FASTER than inflation. Therefore, cost increases in the overall free market have been LOWER than government-run public education. - Inflation has been at historic lows for the past two decades, a more meaningful measure would be inflation plus population growth.

9. Finally, I hope you had a chance to read our report on the diversion of general fund dollars from higher education to roads and health. This is the primary reason higher education tuitions have increased, not because some students get vouchers to go to Westminster and BYU. - Let me try this again, I never argued that vouchers are the reason for increase in college tuition. What I was arguing is that without the fundamental investment of public money in our college system that even with vouchers (pell grands, GI bill) the free market has historically reacted with price increases. Vouchers and the free market didn't help at all to keep prices in check as some have suggested will be the case when vouchers are used for primary education. Vouchers will float as the market dictates but remove or decrease the public investment and the market will react as necessary.

Correction above...

Prices will float as the market dictates but remove or decrease the public investment and the market will react as necessary.

Marshall,

You say that the free market marginalizes those without resources. That's the purpose of vouchers in the first place. By giving $3,000 per poor student, they have the resources to attend private schools.

Why do you say that supply at Catholic schools will be quickly used up? They've been expanding as the Catholic population in Utah (demand) has increased. They've opened up new schools in Utah in recent years. According to their own numbers, they have about 1,000 open slots right now and that excludes any new schools currently under construction or planned for construction.

Colleges are much, much more expensive to open and operate than K-12 schools, public or private. College salaries are higher and capital costs are much, much higher. Again, Catholic schools have expanded capacity as demand has increased.

You said that we should include population growth and inflation, but the K-12 spending growth that we mentioned was a PER STUDENT spending growth. Per student spending accounts for enrollment growth (which is more relevant than general population growth).

Marshall,

At the start of your last comment, you wrote that you support vouchers (Pell Grants) for BYU students and you added

"I think the privatization of our higher education system hasn't been the greatest development. Many worthy students are being denied an opportunity to attend college because they can't afford it"

Later you wrote "I never argued that vouchers are the reason for increase in college tuition".

These seem contradictory.

Finally, I think you misunderstand the intent of our support for vouchers. The intent is NOT to eliminate traditional public financing of K-12 education. Vouchers are a SUPPLEMENT to continued taxpayer financing of public education.

I know my comments are a week too late, but i can't believe Marshall cited the Hoolingshead letter as hitting the nail on the head.

Her main argument is that since there are few private schools in southern Utah, vouchers are a bad thing because there aren't any private schools to choose from.

In my mind, this is a stronger argument FOR vouchers not against them. If there are few private schools in souther Utah, then that would mean southern Utah has a greater need for vouchers to help boost the demand for options outside of the public system.

As it stands, Utah probably had the lowest percentage of students attending private schools. Once again, this it evidence to me that something in the school market isn't quite right. Vouchers would help put Utah back at the national average.

Second, how can you say that the supply of private schools will not increase? What evidence do you have to support this claim? It goes against economics, it also goes against everything that has occurred in other states, and it goes against what has already occurred in Utah due to the Carson Smith Scholarship (or VOUCHER).

Only after one year of being implemented, 2 new schools were created to meet the needs of special needs students. That's right, people were actually creating schools to help SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENTS. I don't know of any students more disadvantaged than students with severe disabilities. This 1) goes against those who would argue that private schools don't serve students who are hard to educate and 2) goes against others who insist that vouchers will not increase the supply of private schools.

Not only have 2 new schools been created (and these weren't fly bu night operations. These were after-school tutoring programs that had experience in helping special needs students and who decided to add full-day programs because of the scholarship), but I've heard that 3 of the Carson Smith schools are planning on building new campuses to meet the increased demand for private schools that serve special needs students.

I'm not sure what more evidence marshal and company need. LOOK AT THE FACTS, NOT ANECDOTAL ARGUMENTS!!

Anonymous says that the problem with education is that it's free and not valued. If that is so (and I partially agree with you), then why are you against vouchers? When parents use vouchers, they are automatically more invested in the education of their child because they have now invested time and in many cases money to provide that education. Few reforms will help get more parents more involved than vouchers.

In addition, if everything depends on the attitude of parents and students, if teachers and schools are hopeless to overcome external problems, then why are we even trying to educate disadvantage children? Why are we paying schools to do the impossible? What purpose does it serve?

My argument is that even though there are external factors that schools and teachers have to deal with, it does not excuse them from having an effect on educating children. If the external factors can't be overcome, then why are there schools (both public and private) that succeed in educating the kids from the worst situations? If some schools and teachers can do it, then that means that schools and teacher CAN have an influence that outweighs the crappiness of the students' home life.

And finally, while we're mentioning BYU professors and what not, Marchall, could you please go take an econ class from Professor Kearl at BYU? You seem to consistently butcher even the most basic economic principles in your arguments.

I forgot to add, that I once had an account with Marshall's blog and then it appeared that my account was deleted. Did this have anything to do with the fact that I wasn't a "like-minded activist"?

I love how the left is all for free speech and public dissent, except when that free speech and public dissent goes against what they believe because Nazis like me and Dick Cheney and Mitt Romney and probably the Utah Taxpayers Association don't have a right to free speech with our our morally evil, free-market agenda.

Marshall said:

"what bothers me is this idea that an unregulated market will always produce desirable results. This just isn't true, there are large parts of this nation that would never of had electricity if it were up to the free market, the interstate highways would have never been built, the free market does not work best in all situations, anyone that has been exposed to economic theory knows this but you guys try to pass this idea off all the time."

Obviously the guys here running this site are kinda wishy-washy on the free market, but I refuse to let you get away with it. Your assertions are ridiculous, and you have no way of proving them. Just because government took it upon itself to do things like build interstate highways, or wastes like the TVA, it does not follow that these things would "never" have happened via the private market.

Your very vague and general notion of "economic theory" doesn't surprise me. Anyone who has studied economics knows full well that there are many divergent economic theories, not just one. Unfortunately, it is this kind of Keynesian BS that is undoubtedly being taught in public schools, with nary an inkling given to students that there might be theories in existence that actually conform to reality (unlike the aforementioned Keynesian one).

It is ignorance of economics (a truly neglected subject in public education, BTW) that has led us to this debate today. Some people always insist they know best what the rest of us should spend our money on, and use the force of government to ensure that we do.

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