Next Tuesday, Utah voters go to the polls to decide if their state will become the first in the nation to offer school vouchers statewide. Referendum 1 would make all public-school kids eligible for vouchers worth from $500 to $3,000 a year, depending on family income. Parents could then use the vouchers to send their children to private schools.
What a great idea. Finally, parents will have choices that wealthy parents have always had. The resulting competition would create better private schools and even improve the government schools.
But wait. Arrayed against the vouchers are the usual opponents. They call themselves Utahns for Public Schools. They include, predictably, the Utah Education Association (the teachers union), Utah School Boards Association, Utah School Employees Union, Utah School Superintendents Association, the elementary and secondary school principals associations, and the PTA. No to vouchers! they protest. Trust us. We know what's best for your kids.
They say they're all for improving education but not by introducing choice. "When it comes to providing every Utah child with a quality education, we believe, as do most Americans, that our greatest hope for success is investing in research-proven reforms. These include the things parents and teachers know will make a difference in the classroom, such as smaller class sizes and investment in teacher development programs. Focusing on this type of reform will bring far greater success than diverting tax dollars to an alternative education system."
Please. I've heard that song for years. Government schools in America fail while spending on average more than $11,000 per student. Utah spends $7,500. Think what an innovative education entrepreneur would do with so much money. It's more than $150,000 per classroom!
The answer to mediocre public schooling isn't to give a government monopoly more "teacher development programs." The answer is competition.
Bureaucrats and unions tremble at the thought. On my "20/20" special on education, one teacher had the nerve to sneer, "Competition is not for children!" The opposite is true. Competition and choice mean parent power. It's parents whom the education lobby really fears. The last thing it wants is a system in which parents choose their children's schools. Parents might not choose the union-dominated establishment schools. Better not take that chance.
Opponents of choice managed to win a referendum on the law, hoping voters will veto it. I hope they don't.