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Vouchers: Responding to Rep. Kay McIff, part 2

Last week, Republican Rep. Kay McIff submitted ten reasons why he is opposed to vouchers in a guest editorial in the Standard Examiner. Click here to see part 1 of our response to Rep. McIff.

Today, we respond to some other points Rep. McIff raised in his guest editorial.

"Point 5, Escape and abandon: First and foremost vouchers are vehicles to escape from schools deemed unacceptable . . ."

"Point 7, Stratification: The free market produces winners and losers . . . The result is enormous disparity."

Parents already "escape and abandon" public schools deemed "unacceptable" by moving into neighborhoods where public schools are deemed acceptable. Every morning as we leave our homes in suburban Salt Lake County, we pass by groups of middle class white children waiting for the school bus to take them to nearly all-white middle class public schools. When we arrive at our offices on Salt Lake City's west side, we see immigrant Latino and African children waiting for a school bus to take them to non-white low income schools.

Voucher opponents like to talk about the egalitarian nature of public schools, but very few institutions in America -- and Utah -- are more segregated than public elementary schools, and the disparity in school performance is enormous.

Voucher opponents cannot criticize Utah's voucher program on the grounds that it will cause stratification because this process has been occurring for decades within the public school system and nothing -- including busing and additional funding for schools in low-income areas -- has reversed this trend.

Moreover, since the voucher is means-tested, the bulk of voucher dollars will be going to low-income students, not high-income students. By giving financially viable education choices to low-income students, education stratification is reduced, not increased.

Coming soon, part three: Is competition a bad thing for education?

In response to the inevitable "but the poor won't be able to afford private schools even with a voucher" response, we point out that K-8 tuition at Catholic schools is $3,950 (qualified Catholic tuition). According to Utah Catholic Schools, average tuition assistance for low-income students is $1,450. A $3,000 voucher coupled with financial aid and assistance from Children First Utah makes Catholic K-8 schools affordable for low income families.

Notice how the opponents of vouchers are always talking about what's best for the system...Well, you know what? While Rep McIff is worrying about what's best for the system, I'm going to spend my time worrying about what's best for the children.

If a parent decides that a school is "unacceptable," why should we force their children to stay in it? What good does it serve anyone?

This whole "escape and abandon" argument is kind of upsetting. The parents who want vouchers the most, are parents whose children are falling through the cracks for one reason or another in the public system (maybe it has something to do with the fact that one size doesn't fit all?), yet voucher opponents would have us believe that instead of having the option to put their kid in a school that they feel works for their child, they should just take one for the team.

How sad is that!

There's an article by the Friedman Foundation that reviews the research done on segregation in private schools vs. public schools.

According to the research, vouchers schools are often less segregated than the public schools in the same cities, and private schools over all are only a hair more segregated than public schools.

Click here to read the study.

I know some families that send their kids to Layton Christian Academy. It has over 600 kids, and over 40% are minority. Does any public school in Davis County have that high percentage of minorities?

It seems that my link doesn't work. Just put this address in your browser and click on "View Research Publication" to read the study: http://www.friedmanfoundation.org/friedman/research/ShowResearchItem.do?id=10066

Oops, I screwed up again. Here's the whole address to read the study...

http://www.friedmanfoundation.org/friedman/research/ShowResearchItem.do?id=10066

Nevermind....the address is too long and so it gets cut off. Just go to the Friedman Foundation website, click on research, and then click on the segregation study at the bottom.

It's funny when McIff and voucher opponents argue against "stratification" and "creaming" the best students from poor-performing schools. Their point argues against the way things already are. Take a look at the differences in test scores and ethnic makeup between east side and west side schools in SL County--especially in Granite and SL school districts. Schools are already "stratified" and east side schools are "creaming" the students.

Vouchers help improve that situation by giving poorer families a realistic option to failing public schools.

I am confused by your Part 2 position responding to Rep. Kay McIff. Can you help me better understand? I do not question the stratification in public schools in Utah. I wish it were different. Is this stratification in Utah's public schools the "fault" of public education? It appears that you are taking that position. If yes, can you help me understand why?

We know that public schools are stratified. We also know that the only schools in Utah that are more stratified are charter schools and most private schools. If you beleive stratification is negative, how do you justify support of vouchers and charter schools, both of which cause greater stratification and continue to critize public schools?

It appears that your position is that stratification is bad, but becasue it is bad for public schools, we are justified in supporting programs that will make it worse! Can you clarify this for me?

Second thought, do you have a definition of "low-income student"? You acknowledge that "high-income students will receive voucher dollars. Whereas a program like this has never been implemented elsewhere, or in Utah, how do you know "a bulk of voucher dollars will be going to low-income students"? Although a means test may increase the probability of this happening, I do not understand how it will guarantee it. Maybe this is just an opinion and not a fact as presented?

Existing stratification is not the fault of public schools, but it is still a fact. The point is this: voucher opponents cannot criticize vouchers because vouchers ALLEGEDLY cause stratification when the status quo is definitely stratified.

Where is your evidence that most private schools are stratified, particularly Catholic schools? Maybe this is just an opinion and not a fact as being presented. Certainly, if poor students use vouchers, the private schools will be less stratified.

Regarding charter school stratification, keep in mind that charter schools are slightly "whiter" than district schools because a disproportionate share of charter schools are in white areas like Alpine School District. Therefore, charter schools are drawing white kids from white public schools, not white kids from minority schools.

Can anyone GUARANTEE that the bulk of voucher dollars will be used for poor kids? When advocates for higher K-12 spending can GUARANTEE that increased spending will lead to increased performance, then will start talking about guarantees.

Bottom line: if insufficient numbers of low income children ultimately use vouchers, then the program will be modified, just like the existing Minimum School Program is modified annually.

The basic problem with several of the arguments made by opponents of vouchers is that they assume (most of the time avoiding saying it explicitly) that a major mission of the public schools is to socialize children into having particular attitudes and beliefs. One of those is the idea that students must attend a racially diverse school in order to (a) be racially tolerant and (b) to help disadvantaged minority children do better in school, or (c) ensure that there is adequate funding for schools with many minority students because you can't trust school bvoards and the legislature to ensure equal funding for minority-dominant schools. Reason (c) is holding the non-minority students hostage in order to help other students. Reason (b) is a racist belief, that minority students are not capable of reaching their full intellectual potential unless they are association with "white" kids. So how exactly do the students in "all minority" countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa ever achieve anything? Reason (a) might have some merit a century ago, in the days before the pervasive TV, radio and internet media established black and Latino people as heroes of American sports, entertainment, and government. In addition, children interact with other people in organizations like Scouting, church, Little League, soccer, etc. Our multi-ethnic American culture is a very real presence in even "flyover" states like Utah. Additionally, the dominant Utah culture--Mormonism--includes a strong element of socializing young adults as missionaries into other parts of the nation (from LA to New Yor City) and the world (from Mongolia to Ghana to Brazil). The children of people who lived for two years among the ordinary people of Guatemala are not going to be raised to be prejudiced against Spanish- speaking people.

And how many student received the tuition assistance you speak of and how might this scale with the increased demand of vouchers?

Bottom line: if insufficient numbers of low income children ultimately use vouchers, then the program will be modified, just like the existing Minimum School Program is modified annually.

And if insufficient number of private schools are created for the rural Utah to use vouchers than will you also help make the necessary changes? I think it is unfair to use rural tax dollars to pay for benefits that will mostly benefit urban areas? After all competition doesn't mean much if you only have one private school for a hundred miles or is the name of your organization called Utah urban taxpayers now?

To say that moving our schools to vouchers will help low income families is to ignore the most fundamental market forces. Does Neiman Marcus setup in the less wealthy parts of town? Does Tiffany's jewelery setup in the less wealthy parts of town? The best private schools will setup were they can ask the highest prices for a premium product? The wealthy with the resources pay for a premium product will receive the best education while we are left with the lower quality private schools that we can afford. This is how it works in every other industry. Voucher supporters want to point to the market but then ignore even the most fundamental market concepts.

Also the major mission of public schools to create an educated workforce and electorate, That is why we must strengthen the schools that 98% of Utah kids attend. Our economy doesn't depend on the 2% of those attending private school, it depends on the majority of workers that attend public schools, our economy cannot afford this ill conceived experiments using our kids, just look at the privatized healthcare system and you will see the future with privatization of our school system.

According to officials at Utah Catholic schools, about 30% receive some form of tuition assistance.

The rural argument doesn't hold water for at least two reasons. First, rural schools have pupil-teacher ratios (PTR) that are much lower than urban schools. According to your logic, urban taxpayers are paying for rural benefits and that would be unfair. Now, there are logical logistical reasons for lower PTRs in the rural areas, but that doesn't eliminate the fact that urban taxpayers fund lower PTRs in rural areas.

Second, diverting urban students to private schools at a cost lower than $7,500 -- which is what will Utah will be spending per student in 2008 -- is a savings for everyone, including rurals, childless, those whose children have already graduated, etc.

You need to check your facts about private school locations. Private schools are not just located in rich areas, certainly not the Catholic schools.

Here I will try it again.

And how many student received the tuition assistance you speak of and how might this scale with the increased demand of vouchers?

Give us the hard numbers?

When I looked up the numbers it was something like a hundred and fifty or so and you know very well that a hundred and fifty is not going to be sufficient. This is so beyond a bait and switch it is pathetic, you are making promises that you even know aren't going to pan out, that is why you have started backpedaling and saying that this might need to be modified if it doesn't work out. Is that before or after another million is dumped into our state by the Walton family to convince us that this bait and switch is a good use of our tax dollars?

According to Utah Catholic schools' own numbers, 1,669 students received tuition assistance, about eleven times the amount you suggested. That's just the Catholic schools. We don't yet have data for the other schools.

Regarding future modifications to the voucher program, that's a given. More than 90% of the bills addressed in legislative session are modifications of previous legislation, and that applies to public K-12 education as well. Vouchers won't be any different.

We have found, however, that voucher opponents aren't really interested in any realistic changes to the voucher program. Even if the $500-per-student-regardless-of-income part we're eliminated, opponents would not change their minds. They just want to kill the program.

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