Vouchers: Responding to Rep. Kay McIff, part 1
Rep. Kay McIff (R) outlined ten reasons why he opposes vouchers in a guest editorial that appeared in yesterday's Standard Examiner. We'll be addressing these points (in no particular order) over the week, starting today.
In point number two, McIff argues that vouchers are a subsidy for private industry and compares vouchers to subsidizing golfers on private courses. This claim has several flaws.
- The existing public education system itself is a subsidy. Most families do not earn enough income to pay enough taxes to cover the cost of educating their children in public schools (and still have enough left over to cover the costs of other government services). The top 1% of taxpayers pay about 20% of all individual income taxes (this percentage fluctuates based on the state of the economy) and the top 10% pay about 50% of all income taxes. Public education was instituted so that high income families could subsidize the education of middle and lower income families.
- Private school vouchers are actually a smaller subsidy than the existing public school subsidy. On average, Utah will be spending $7,500 per student in 2008 (includes capital and debt service costs that government reports and newspapers exclude). The average voucher amount is expected to be about $1,900. That's why vouchers are a good deal for everyone, including those who do not have children and those whose children will continue to attend public schools. (Please click here to read our response to concerns about existing private school students getting vouchers.)
- Comparing private school vouchers to golf courses is truly apples and oranges. First, education is an entitlement enshrined in the state constitution and vouchers are a lower cost way to deliver this entitlement. Golf is not an entitlement (yes, we know some people would disagree with that). Besides, government shouldn't be in the golf course business anyway. This is something the taxpaying private sector can provide.
- While vouchers are a subsidy for low- and middle-income students who receive them, vouchers are not a subsidy for the private schools themselves. Government routinely contracts with the private sector to provide services. Food stamps, for example, are a subsidy for the low income families that receive them but are not a subsidy for the grocery stores that accept them. School districts contract with private companies to build facilities. These are not subsidies for privately owned construction companies because these companies are providing a service. The same is true for vouchers since private schools will be providing education services.
Finally, while McIff didn't mention this, a commonly used "subsidy" argument claims that vouchers are bad policy because government doesn't give vouchers to people who buy their own security systems. Again, this is an apples-and-oranges comparison because government is not currently imposing general taxes in order to have government employees install and monitor security systems for all residents. If government were currently taxing its citizens in order to provide security systems as a constitutional entitlement, then vouchers would make sense if the voucher amount were less than the amount the state was paying to provide this service on its own.
Please click here to read our response to concerns about existing private school students getting vouchers.