One cheer for Utah vouchers

An expansion of parental options in education is a wonderful thing. But before we break out the champagne (or, for good Mormons, fruit juice) to fete the recent school choice victory in the Beehive State, let us raise a few concerns. Instead of a well-funded program that targets needy kids, Utah's new voucher law is both universal and cheap. Vouchers will range from $500 up to $3,000 per child (the sliding scale is based on socioeconomic status). Meanwhile, the state has only about 100 private schools boasting merely 6,000 vacant seats for half a million eligible students. On top of that, the state is only offering money to parents whose students are not currently enrolled in private schools. So what's the likely outcome? We know from Milwaukee that generous vouchers can produce the sort of demand that catalyzes new supply (see here). We know from the Cleveland experience that chintzy vouchers yield no such thing. The upshot, in Utah, is apt to be a lot of frustrated and perhaps litigious parents and, very likely, needy kids with few if any options. This could easily weaken the fragile political support for the program. (The bill passed by just one vote in the house of this solidly GOP state.) Otherwise, it's all just terrific and you may now return to your regularly scheduled celebration.

"Broad Voucher Plan Is Approved in Utah," Associated Press, February 11, 2007

"Utah's Broad Voucher Plan Would Break New Ground," by Michele McNeil, Education Week, February 9, 2007

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