by Howard Stephenson


Last week the Utah State School Board refused to implement HB 174 – Utah’s newest education voucher law – because the original voucher law – HB 148 – has been referred to the ballot. Seems the twelve of fifteen board members who voted to violate the law ought to take their own state mandated course in character education.

The truth about vouchers and the need for them

The media and government school defenders have done an effective job in demonizing Utah’s voucher law by repeating the question: “Why should we spend tax dollars for private schools?”

The answer is simple: Because competition is lacking in the education marketplace and is needed to improve education for all children – those whose parents make a choice to go elsewhere and those who remain. Competition is what will reduce the mediocrity of government schools as administrators finally view children and their parents as customers who must be served rather than a captive audience.

And if you don’t think there are problems in America’s public schools, just take a look at the dozens of independent studies between the 1983 A Nation at Risk report – which stated that our schools were so bad that if a foreign power had forced them on us we would have considered it an act of war – and this year’s U.S. Chamber of Commerce study which revealed, among other things that most 8 th and 4 th Graders (the grades tested for the national study) are not proficient in math or English. The Chamber study also showed that states often inflate their results to look good to the home crowd but when the data are compared state by state, their gradeflation is obvious. This strikes close to home in Utah as education officials often show that Utah student scores are generally above the national average, but when the data are disaggregated by for ethnicity and income level Utah students score lower than their national peers in all categories except African-Americans.

Utah is facing an educational funding crisis: We are facing an increase of over 150,000 additional students in the system over the next ten years without a known funding source to pay for their education. Vouchers are a way to get parents to take their students elsewhere for a fraction of the cost taxpayers would otherwise spend on them in the public schools.

Why would anyone oppose allowing parents to volunteer to take an average of $2,000 of the current $7,500 spent for their child if they agree to make up the difference between the $2,000 and private school tuition with their own money?

This is a bargain for taxpayers because it leaves an average of $5,500 per voucher in the system to spend on those who remain and to cover the costs of growing student enrollments. The Utah Taxpayers Legal Foundation is prepared to defend vouchers in the courts but we need your financial support to make it happen.

The union’s false claims

The National Education Association – the biggest and most powerful teacher union in the country – is about to spend millions of union dollars in Utah to convince voters to support the repeal of Utah’s new voucher law – the first universal education voucher law to be enacted in any state.

Trouble is, their petition is flawed and doesn’t call for the repeal of vouchers at all. Instead, as Utah’s Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s legal analysis of the referendum language shows, the referendum substantially repeals only the part of the voucher law which would have given five years of ransom payments to school districts for each student whose parents receive a voucher redeemed at a private school of their choice. These payments were to be made to school districts for students not in their classrooms – and really ought to be repealed.

But rather than starting a new petition after discovering the referendum doesn’t do what they wanted it to do, the teachers union brazenly submitted signature sheets anyway, which are now being verified by county clerks. After the signatures are verified, the union expects to “re-write” their petition in the minds of the voters to make them think they’re voting for repeal of vouchers. By doing this, the unions expect the courts to back them up and rule that it doesn’t matter what the ballot language says, since public opinion polls show many think the referendum repeals vouchers, then the court should rule that the approval of the referendum on the ballot will repeal vouchers, when in fact, the plain language of the petition does not repeal vouchers at all.

State School Board is in Cahoots with the Unions

Attorney General Shurtleff’s legal opinion states that the voucher law must be implemented without delay, despite the union’s claims that their mistakes on the referendum should be overlooked and implementation of vouchers halted.

And the chair of the State School Board is on the side of the unions! In a recent news article in the Davis Clipper chair Kim Burningham said, “Now that the petition got enough signatures, we’ll stop and wait and do nothing until the public speaks and a decision is made.” State Board of Education Chair Kim Burningham

According to the AG opinion (and a separate, independent opinion by Clark Waddoups of the law firm Parr Waddoups Brown Gee & Loveles, for the State School Board to “do nothing” to implement HB174 would violate state law. However, if the School Board follows the direction of the Attorney General the National Education Association is expected to challenge their decision in the courts. If the State Board violates the law and refuses to implement HB174, citizens must take them to court. In either event, the Utah Taxpayers Legal Foundation must defend the law in the courts. If you would like to assist in defending this law, send your tax dedictuble contributions to Utah Taxpayers Legal Foundation 1578 W 1700 S #201, SLC UT 84020 .