by Rick Koerber
November 2, 2007
There is much talk swirling around in Utah and across the nation right now in regards to Utah’s potential repeal of the first ever statewide universal voucher system before it ever goes into effect. Interestingly, most of this talk is produced by those who know very little concerning the actualities of the debate.
In the election to be held this Tuesday, November 6th, Utahans will reveal to the nation whether or not they are ready to lead by example in restoring constitutional government based on free enterprise and individual rights – beginning with choice in education. At the core of the voucher issue is the debate over the role government plays in America.
Despite the never ending debate about the best use of public education funds, the electorate has not paid much attention to the question of whether or not government should be supporting the unionized, monopolistic status-quo in education. Even the most polite intellectuals have to admit this union is a fascist-style state/union conglomerate largely responsible for controlling the minds of America’s next generation. Many politically naïve Utahans are getting caught up in the thinking that “it is wrong to use public tax dollars for private schools.”
Public money does not belong to the current education establishment – it belongs to the public. Given the dramatic shortcomings of government education (less than half of the students in the system can perform at grade level let alone graduate by the end), the real question should be both in principle and practicality: should government continue to lend exclusive financial support to a union dominated establishment which has now shown itself in the most recent referendum to be more politically powerful than the entire state legislature and state executive? The political reality is the same across the nation, which is why so many will be watching next Tuesday.
Utah’s total education budget exceeds $3.5 billion per year. Think about that. Over the next 10 years, it is anticipated the state will spend approximately $50 billion. Total money spent for vouchers in the first year is estimated at just over $12 million. In other words, money spent on vouchers is projected to be less than 1/200th of the money spent on the public education system. Furthermore, the Utah voucher law does not even take money from the education fund. The legislature specifically crafted the law to take from the general fund, leaving the entire current pool of establishment money alone (a concession to get the law passed in the first place).
The underlying argument behind not using public tax dollars for private schools is the idea that the state should only spend tax dollars on state owned and controlled companies. What most Utahans fail to consider is that both federal and state governments already spend public money on private schools. For example, Pell Grants and GI Bills are essentially public money vouchers for adults. Similarly, the federal head start program uses public money for private school choices. Furthermore, the state of Utah already practices a limited voucher program for handicap students. The absurdity of the assumptions underlying this question is not obvious to the casual citizen: What if food stamps could only be spent at government owned and operated grocery stores? What if the transportation budget could only be spent on government owned and administered construction companies? What if government food and agriculture subsidies were only spent on government owned and operated farms?
Some argue government should not be involved in such welfare style programs. I agree. I don’t like the idea of government collecting funds through compulsory means, a concept appropriately labeled “legal plunder” by Frederic Bastiat. Legal plunder is always a problem, but what makes matters worse is if those who commit the plunder use the money to support only themselves. This is socialism 101.
Additionally, we have to do something to change the politics of the status quo. If we are to win the battle for freedom in education and across all issues, conservatives, individualists, Christians and libertarians have to become smart and strategically fight to win, because being right in principle—while necessary—is not enough to change the course of the future.
A voucher, while still a form of government subsidy, is a huge step in the right direction. In Utah, every student eligible for a voucher under the law is already in government schools receiving approximately $7,500 per year in subsidy. This means any family who elects to move their child to the private sector alternative, even with a voucher, is decreasing their dependency on government by more than half and dealing a death blow to the current political establishment by economically demonstrating the affect of choice.
Today, since politically reality is that government only spends money on government owned and controlled schools, there is no avenue for choice, innovation and creativity with education funds. Unions, on behalf of teachers and administrators, say things such as “We’re doing all we can, just give us more money.” The common malady of socialized enterprises is the assumption: if it can be done, we’d be doing it – if we had the money.
No one can predict in advance what can be discovered by the enterprising mind. The purpose of vouchers is to demonstrate the affect choice has in the marketplace when tax dollars spent by parents produce a better result. School vouchers, while not the last tool in the battle for better education, set the standard for freedom. No one has yet demonstrated the political power necessary to break the trend toward socialization in America, most notably in education.
Utah signaled a ray of hope when after nearly a decade of struggle the legislature passed the voucher law and the governor signed it into law. The dominate union monopoly, working with government bureaucrats, refused to enforce the law and now is poised to erase all evidence of any successful threat to their stranglehold in education. All rhetoric aside, vouchers would be a huge success in changing this trend in both Utah and the nation.
The eyes of the nation are upon us. Allowing defeat on November 6th will doom tens of thousands of Utah students to failure over the next ten years. Even worse, it will embolden the monopolistic juggernaut currently in control of America’s children.
School teachers, students and society at large are not served best by tyranny, no matter how benevolent the tyrant seems. A no vote by Utahns on November 6th is not a vote against welfare, private schools or against any particular law as much as it is a resounding NO shouted to the entire country on the question of Utah’s current status as the example and source of strength upon which the nation can lean in our coming times of economic and social trouble.
The prominent polls seem to indicate Utahns aren’t yet ready to stand up for the cause of liberty and prosperity, even when the battle involves their children. Let’s hope enough Utahns will wake up on Tuesday to a sense of the overwhelming significance of their ability to influence their state, their nation and the direction of government in America. Vote YES for Referendum 1.
Update on Alvin: He's still in the hospital but last night we got our first NORMAL on calcium levels. I'm running around doing a few things this morning, but am headed back to the hospital where I hope his levels stayed normal all night. If they did -- hallelujah! We get to come home today.