George Will

WASHINGTON -- In today's political taxonomy, "progressives" are rebranded liberals dodging the damage they did to their old label. Perhaps their most injurious idea -- injurious to themselves and public schools -- was the forced busing of (mostly other peoples') children to engineer "racial balance" in public schools. Soon, liberals will need a third label if people notice what "progressives" are up to in Utah.

There, teachers unions, whose idea of progress is preservation of the status quo, are waging an expensive and meretricious campaign to overturn the right of parents to choose among competing schools, public and private, for the best education for their children.

In balloting more important to the nation than most of next year's elections will be, Utahans next week will decide by referendum whether to retain or jettison the nation's broadest school choice program. Passed last February, the Parent Choice in Education Act would make a voucher available to any public school child who transfers to a private school, and to current private school children from low-income families. Opponents of school choice reflexively rushed to force a referendum on the new law, which is suspended pending the vote.

The vouchers would vary in value from $500 to $3,000, depending on household income. The teachers unions' usual argument against school choice programs is that they drain money from public education. But the vouchers are funded by general revenues, not the two sources of public school funds, which are local property taxes and the Uniform School Fund. And every Utah voucher increases funds available for public education. Here is how:

Utah spends more than $7,500 per public school pupil ($3,000 more than the average private school tuition). The average voucher will be for less than $2,000. So every voucher that is used -- by parents willing to receive $2,000 rather than $7,500 of government support for the education of their child -- will save Utah taxpayers an average of $5,500. And because the vouchers are paid from general revenues, the departed pupil's $7,500 stays in the public school system.

Furthermore, booming Utah, which has about 540,000 public school pupils and the nation's largest class sizes, expects to have at least 150,000 more than that a decade from now. By empowering parents to choose private alternatives, the voucher program will save Utah taxpayers millions of dollars in school construction expenses.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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