Monday, November 12, 2007

vouchers (and students) take another beating from a teachers union

Statewide voucher initiatives are very difficult to pass-- because the costs/consequences of the government's monopoly power in education are more subtle and thus, far less impressive politically. Voucher initiatives have a much better opportunity to pass in cities-- where the costs and consequences are far more obvious.

Vouchers would enhance competition, increase quality, lower costs for taxpayers, and introduce much more flexibility in how education services are delivered. The problem is that the suppliers with monopoly power, not surprisingly, don't want to forfeit any of that monopoly power.

From the editorialists at the WSJ-- before the Utah measure was thrashed at the polls...

Utah's children may not excel in math or English, but their teachers are very good at instructing them in how to run a political campaign. As 2007 achievement test data show another disappointing year for the state's children, the teachers union is running a multi-million-dollar campaign to insulate itself from competition....

The plan passed both houses of Utah's legislature after a rough-and-tumble debate, and was signed by Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. But the teachers union immediately launched a ballot initiative to overturn the law and succeeded in blocking it from taking effect prior to Tuesday's vote.

...the unions are banking that fear of the unknown will trump demonstrated incompetence. The opponents have raised a bundle to disseminate their predictions of doom, including more than $3 million from status quo headquarters, the National Education Association. They're stoking that fear with anti-voucher TV ads that aren't winning high marks for honesty. Salt Lake's KSL-TV, an NBC affiliate that has editorialized against vouchers, nonetheless felt compelled to label as "false" the central claims in two recent attack ads against vouchers.

One ad featured the "Utah teacher of the year" claiming that vouchers "take resources away from public schools." In fact, the law provides only up to $3,000 per child toward private school tuition, depending on family income, and the voucher money comes from the state's general fund, not the education budget. The average voucher will cost $2,000, but the state now spends $7,500 per student. The public schools get to pocket the difference, $5,500, without an obligation to provide any services. So the more parents choose vouchers, the higher per-student spending will rise in the public schools.

Another attack ad claimed that private schools would have "no accountability," when in fact they are required under the law to report to parents how their children in voucher-supported schools do each year on nationwide achievement tests. Market-based competition will force exactly the kind of accountability that the unions fear in public schools.


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