Governor Mitt Romney has an opportunity to help to deliver a victory at the ballot box in Utah next month when voters will decide whether to repeal the state's recently-enacted universal school voucher program.
The benefits of sustaining this kind of program are clear: An education marketplace encourages innovation, greater efficiency, and more diversity. Instead of being stuck with one-size-fits-all, local-government-run public schools, parents are able to choose the schools that best meet their children's unique needs and talents. Schools respond by offering a variety of curricula and specialties. If parents have doubts about whether their child is thriving they can take their business elsewhere. Schools, in turn, hold teachers accountable: they expect professionalism, and accordingly, reward teachers that provide the best service.
Sadly, vouchers have a poor track record at the ballot box. In 2000, initiatives to create school voucher programs in California and Michigan were soundly defeated. But supporters of school choice have reason to hope that Utah should be different. Voters aren't being asked to create a program, but rather to approve a program that has already made it through the legislative process and become law.
Governor Romney is uniquely positioned to lend a helping hand. The former Massachusetts governor's popularity in Utah is well known. In 2002, he earned national acclaim by rescuing Salt Lake City's Olympics. And Romney draws wide support in a state where more than 60-percent of citizens share his religion.
Romney has stated that he supports school choice and vouchers while on the campaign trail. But skeptics might note that as Governor, vouchers were not a priority.
The Utah initiative gives Romney the opportunity to prove his bona fides as a strong school voucher supporter at a critical time. By urging his supporters to give this program a chance, he could ensure that more parents control where their kids go to school, and help Utah become a national model for universal school choice.
Carrie Lukas is vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women's Forum and a Senior Fellow at the Goldwater Institute. A longer version of this column originally appeared in National Review Online.
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