November 5, 2007

Utahns Get Heavy Dose Of Dishonesty From NEA

Tomorrow, Utah voters will decide whether to launch a school-voucher program to allow parents more choice in educating their children. The NEA has launched a full assault against the program, and in some cases against the truth, as the Wall Street Journal notes:

A new report from the Utah Foundation shows the state's public education could certainly use a shake-up. The states most similar demographically to Utah, by measures such as student poverty and parental education, are Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Utah finishes last in this group, based on eighth-grade scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Utah youngsters trail the pack across the range of core subjects -- last in math, last in reading, last in science.

Still, 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 antivoucher 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.

Voucher work by issuing a partial rebate on taxes spent on each child for their education. They remove part of the funding but the entire child from the state-run schools, meaning that each voucher represents a profit to the public school in which the child would have enrolled. Even at $3000 per voucher, more than half of the allocated resources for the child would remain in the public school system, which then would be relieved of the costs associated with that child.

As for accountability, the notion that private schools have less is simply absurd. Private schools in a competitive market have the ultimate accountability to parents to produce results. If they don't, the parents will find another private school that works. Schools that fail to educate will close from lack of customers, just as any other business does when it proves incompetent in a competitive arena. These schools will have to show the responsiveness of any business in the marketplace if it expects to keep its clients satisfied enough to do repeat business.

Compare that to the responsiveness of administrators at public schools. Most of them are well-meaning, but even school boards have their hands tied through federal mandates, union job protections, and other issues outside of local control. Parents have almost no influence over curricula, nor do they get much accountability for actions taken by the schools or the teachers. Those who have tangled with administrators find that the education monopoly inculcates a certain mixture of arrogance and resignation among most of even the best people in the system -- and much worse among the less worthy.

The Journal reports that the measure appears headed for defeat, fuelled by the scare tactics of those with the most to lose from the end of the monopoly. Utahns should keep that in mind when they go to the polls tomorrow. Which side wants to give the power to the parents, and which side wants to scare them into keeping the power with the monopoly that has made Utah the worst educational system in the region?


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