Saturday, January 21, 2023

UT: Vouchers and a Cynical Bribe

Utah has jumped on the voucher train as they railroad an education savings account bill through the House, tying it to a call for raises for the state's teachers.

It's not particularly subtle. The language is right here, where the bill says "the amount of the salary adjustment for each full-time educator is:"

(i) if Title 53F, Chapter 6, Part 4, Utah Fits All Scholarship Program, is funded and in
effect, $8,400; or
(ii) if Title 53F, Chapter 6, Part 4, Utah Fits All Scholarship Program, is not funded
and in effect, $4,200.

Utah voters rejected vouchers back in 2007. Heck, the House voted down a voucher bill in February of 2022. That time, folks were afraid that it would drain far too much money from a system that ranks at the bottom in the US for state funding of public schools.

What's a voucher supporter to do? Ram a bill through quickly, so that people don't have a chance to voice opposition, and throw in a bribe so that folks can't oppose it without giving up hush money opposing teacher raises. 

Some days it's just a lot of work to find ways to circumvent that pesky democracy thing.

How about the voucher bill itself? Is it any good?

Short answer: No, it's a money-grabbing nightmare.

All Utah students are eligible, which means that rich families whose students never set foot in public school can still grab some public tax dollars to supplement their private schooling, draining money from public schools while reducing their costs by $0.00. Homeschoolers can hoover up some free state money, too. 

The program will be run by a hired "program manager," thereby outsourcing a government function to a private company.

Families that sign up must waive any rights to "disability service" for their children and give up all rights under IDEA.

There are no educational qualifications to be a vendor in the program, no requirements to check to see if vendors are actually able to do what they say they can do. Private schools do face some minimal requirements. The program manager is supposed to "adopt policies that maximize the number of eligible service providers," one more sign that, once again, this program delegates the development and implementation of education policy to a private company.

But there are, of course, the usual restrictions saying that they are not state actors because they accept state money, and that nobody can require them to alter their "creed, practices, admission policies, hiring practices, or curricula." Bring on the taxpayer funded discrimination and religious education. 

Buried in the bill is some language that comes close to acknowledging what this is really about:

The creation of the program or establishment of a scholarship account on behalf of
a student does not:
(i) imply that a public school did not provide a free and appropriate public education
for a student; or
(ii) constitute a waiver or admission by the state.

In other words, we know that we are cutting these people loose and we are, in fact, trying to weasel out of any obligations to actually provide a free and appropriate education for all the students in our state, so we'd better put in some language to protect ourselves in case anyone wants to call us on our bullshit in a court of law.

This is a bad bill. Sponsor Rep. Candice Perucci wasn't kidding when she said "This is the beginning of us reinventing public education in Utah," if by "reinventing" you mean "defunding and getting everyone out of it so that we no longer have it in any meaningful way." 

No accountability. No oversight. Privatizing the operation of the state's education system. Defunding public education, while funding discrimination and religious instruction. Literally taking money away from students in public school to give it to homeschoolers and private schools.  And trying to throw some money at teachers to sell the whole ugly thing, while suspending rules so that they can rush this by quickly before anyone says anything. Well, I hope folks in Utah who want a public education system say something now. 

1 comment:

  1. And the voucher s are TWICE the state's WPU.