I’ve noticed some pro-voucher ads on TV these last few days. For out-of-state readers, The recent Utah legislative session finally saw the passing of a voucher bill, HB 148, after years of efforts of determined conservative effort. Utahns for Public Schools quickly mobilized to gather the 92,000 signatures necessary to have a bill put up for a public vote. Apparently, the wealthy special interests who stand to benefit from the bill are concerned enough about the referendum to produce a TV ad campaign promoting vouchers.
The ads make the referendum an issue of choice. HB 148 introduces choice into the Utah education system, they claim, and signing the petition to put hb 148 up for a public vote threatens that choice.
Ironic, isn’t it, that the purported advocates of choice don’t want the public to have a choice on this bill, as they would if it were put up for a public vote?
More than merely hypocritical, these ads are entirely specious. There is choice built within the system. I home-teach a family whose children are enrolled in a cooperative elementary school. Another close friend in the ward has their child in a school emphasizing bilingual and cross-cultural education. Another woman in the ward with whom we’ve become friendly is planning on enrolling her daughter in a school emphasizing a personalized, project-based education. None of these families have the funds to afford private school—even with the vouchers HB 148 promises. But by taking advantage of Utah’s impressive and growing selection of charter schools, these families have been able to make choices from a wide selection regarding the educational opportunities for their children (for more information about Utah’s charter schools, go to the Utah State Office of Education’s page on Charter Schools). But these duplicitous ads don’t deign to mention the choice our charter schools offer.
If these special interests were so concerned about choice, why isn’t their first priority a widescale expansion of Utah’s tried-and-true charter school program? Why not provide a massive increase in the funding of the charters? Could it be because some of them seek to profit from what would essentially be state subsidization of private schools? Is it because their wealth won’t give them any advantage in enrolling their children in specialized schools under charter schools? Is it because they merely want the state to subsidize their particular, expensive choice? If not, why are they so obsessed with privatization of the educational arena? Why are they so supportive of a system which will in reality only aid the choice choice to a wealthy few, rather than extending choice to Utahns of all economic levels?
I understand that Utahns for Public Schools is fighting an uphill battle. Even if it succeeds, there is reason to believe that the vouchers will still go forward because of a second bill, HB 174, amending HB 148 (Utah Attorney General Shurtleff addressed this issue on Midday Utah here). But the fight is still worth fighting in order to hinder the implementation of the vouchers. Governor Huntsman, himself an advocate of the vouchers, has stated that if the public votes down vouchers, he is willing to bow to the will of the people. I hope, for the sake of the rising generations, that this step into the privatization of our education system is defeated.