Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What's #1?

Various lawn signs around town proclaim, “I’m For 1,” “Vote No On 1,” “Vote Yes On 1,” etc, in a variety of colors and designs. One of my kids asked the other day what the signs were all about. I explained that they are actually about two separate issues. I briefly explained the two issues, but my son still seemed confused.

Not only are kids confused about this; it seems that many voters are confused as well. Part of this is because both issues are called something-or-other 1.

Referendum No. 1 is the statewide school voucher referendum that has been making big headlines and getting into everybody’s faces.

If you live in Davis, Weber, or the southern end of Box Elder County, you will also see Opinion Question 1 on your ballot. This would authorize a .25% sales tax increase to fund transportation projects. Most of the money raised would go to fund light rail and commuter rail, while the remainder would go to “a myriad of road projects in Weber and Davis counties,” according to Stephen G. Handy of the Northern Utah Transportation Alliance (see SE article).

Some cities are not excited about yet another sales tax increase to fund UTA projects (see D-News article). Voters already approved a similar increase for the same projects just a few years ago. However, most cities along the Wasatch Front have endorsed increasing your taxes. Does anyone find it surprising that most government entities favor increasing your taxes?

So, here’s the scoop:

Vote yes on Referendum No. 1 if you want parents to have more choice in their kids’ education. Vote no on it if you want government to retain a stranglehold monopoly on education. I mean, government schools do such a fine job that test scores have been steadily declining over the past four decades even as per-student expenditures in real dollars have more than doubled.

Vote yes on Opinion Question 1 if you think you and your neighbors don’t pay enough taxes; if you’re not satisfied with only giving more of your money to government, but also think your neighbors (even the poorest among us) should cough up more of their hard-earned dollars to government. Vote no on Opinion Question 1 if you think sales taxes are regressive and you think government already gets more than enough of your cash as it is.

Referendum No. 1 would reduce government power over individuals, while Opinion Question 1 would increase government power. So, while the names of the two issues offer confusion, they’re really quite simple.


That One Guy said...

Reach: as always, I appreciate your thoughts... I am having a hard time lining up behind the voucher issue. Results suggest student scores are NOT better in non-public schools, even though they are regarded as "skimming" the best students from the public system. These schools also are not required to have accredited teachers.

Additionally, of the schools whose tuition is less than $10,000 per year, the average is $4500. If I were in the lowest income category, and were to qualify for the maximum state voucher benefit of $3000, where would the other $1500 come from for each child? What about books, uniforms, activities and transportation?

These factors reinforce to me the idea that this is just another perk provided to the more wealthy by the pandering state legislature.

Yes, the public school system is broken. But this isn't the answer. The answer starts with WAY more accountability from the school districts for the state and federal money allocated to them.

My $0.02.

Raymond Takashi Swenson said...

I would point out to the previous commenter that it is mainly the parents who foot the bill for the difference. Maybe Dad works an extra job so he can send his kids to a school that he believes is best for their daughter. Maybe Mom does child care at home or gets another job to cover the cost. Or maybe they are dealing with a church-associated school that has a scholarship program to help parents who can't cover the full tuition.

Basically, the issue you raise is that vouchers should be MORE generous. After all, if the child is left in public school, Utah is going to shell out $7500 toward her education. If her parents send her to a private school, the state decreases its costs by $7500, but still has $4500 of the money, basically a present from the parents. Why not give them a bigger cut? Well, because the UEA doesn't want to give ANY money to the parents. The $3000 is a political compromise, and the $4500 provides a financial incentive to the State to create a voucher program. But since the boards of education and the teachers unions all hate the idea that they lose control over the kids who go to private schools, even though they end up with more money, it seems clear that the money is not that big a deal to them. So I suggest that the whole $7500 be given to any dad who relieves the state of the cost of educating his daughter, and he be allowed to spend it either at a private school or to cover the costs of home schooling for his kids.

After all, if you have three kids, and you actually educate them at home, you are saving the state $22,500 a year! Why not give that money to Mom so she can stay home and educate her kids, and not go out into the marketplace to earn money to either pay taxes or pay tuition at a private school, plus pay for day care costs for the time outside of school hours? With that much money you could pay for an extra room on your house, computers and software for each kid, including foreign language courses like Rosetta Stone, and field trips to some interesting locations. Even if you put some basic controls, like testing the kids for reading and math competency, it would be a boon to the family and be revenue neutral for the state.

OK, so if you're not willing to help families without some bribery to the state, how about giving the home schooler the $3000? That still covers the cost for supplies and equipment, and the kids would be better clothed and fed.

The UEA and school boards are death on home schooling families because the families demonstrate that teaching kids basic reading and mathematics is not something that requires special training in college education courses. It belies the whole "teaching credentials" mystique, which creates an artificial shortage of potential teachers for public and charter schools. Home schoolers with funds can buy the same prepackaged lesson plans that public schools buy from publishers and give their kids that high teacher to student ratio attention that the UEA is always saying is the key to better education. If a parent is willing to stay at home and teach his or her kids, why not use education funds to support that. The PURPOSE of the funds is to create educated citizens, NOT to support the UEA and its program to subsidize the Democratic Party, or to indoctrinate kids in "politically correct" beliefs about government and America and denigrate religious faith and traditional sexual morality. Utah can get its money's worth from home schoolers just as it can from private schools or even public schools.

Reach Upward said...

I am in favor of giving the same advantages to home schoolers as vouchers. The current law doesn't do anything like that. Some of our nation's best educated kids come from home schooling environments. However, studies show that home schooling can also produce awful results. There doesn't seem to be a lot of middle ground in home schooling in Utah; it's either really good or really bad.

The vouchers-only-benefit-the-rich argument breaks down for me because of the private schools in my area. The largest private school is a Catholic school. A large portion of the students come from lower income families, even without vouchers. Some students get scholarships from supporting businesses. Some of them get help from extended family members that make sacrifices so a niece/nephew or grandchild can go to the school. Not only would the families of these low income students benefit from vouchers, but many more families that earn even less could make the jump to private schools.

The whole voucher thing is about breaking up the innovation-stifling government monopoly on education. The legislature knows that its the answer to getting Utah over the hump of the next couple of decades where increasing student population will far outstrip revenue growth. But even that argument is a side issue to the fact that breaking up the monopoly will kick-start innovation and help improve matters rather than keeping the lousy status quo.

y-intercept said...

Ogden, with its golden spike and valliant train history needs a train!


The Lady Logician said...

Reach - take it from someone who lives in an area where the focus is on LRT and is not on roads and bridges....

BRIDGES FALL DOWN when transportation money goes to trains and not to roads. We Minnesotans have been putting lots and lots of money into light rail. The Hiawatha line is a money pit - operating at roughly $1m in debt every year. Meanwhile, a major bridge on an interstate highway came crashing down! Now I don't know if the Hiawatha money would have prevented the collapse if the money had gone to roads and bridges, but we would not have a good 1/3 of our bridges in a "structurally deficient" state!

Just my 2 cents!


Reach Upward said...

LL, thanks for your input. There are people out there that don't mind bridges falling down if it will get more people to use public transit. They see public transit as a greater good. It's kind of like a religion.