John Fund

The late Milton Friedman, who was the nation's foremost advocate for school choice, would be more than pleased with the news coming out of Utah. By a vote of 38-37, the Utah House last Thursday approved the first-ever statewide universal school choice plan.

Despite the close vote, the program now faces relatively smooth sailing. The bill now goes to the state Senate, which twice before has voted for a similar program. Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Republican, won election in 2004 in part by campaigning for school choice, and he has said he will likely sign the final bill. Utah's plan is modest, and at the same time revolutionary. It would reimburse parents sending their children to private schools between $500 and $3,000 a year based on their family income. Parents whose kids currently attend private school would not be eligible unless their income was low enough. But all new kindergartners would qualify, so that by 2020 all private school students would be eligible for vouchers.

State Rep. Steve Urquhart, the bill's chief sponsor, says the breakthrough in winning House approval was the realization that it wouldn't harm public education. The bill stipulated that for five years after a voucher student left the public system, the district would get to keep much of the money the state had paid for his education. Given that the average district gets $3,500 from the state and the average voucher is expected to be $2,000, a typical school district would gain some $1,500 every time a student left its system.

Mr. Urquhart was so confident of his math that he started an interactive Web site modeled after the interactive encyclopedia Wikipedia. He posted his bill on it and invited comments. Thousands of people logged on to and participated. "If anyone can show evidence (not just alarmist rhetoric) that public education does not come out financially ahead with this bill, post your arguments and data in the comment section," Mr. Urquhart challenged his readers. No one was able to effectively rebut him.

John Fund

John Fund writes the weekly "On the Trail" column, reprinted here with permission from the Wall Street Journal and He is author of "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy" (Encounter, 2004).

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