Next month, voters in Utah will go to the polls to decide whether to give parents the opportunity to choose the best school for their children. The National Education Association is pouring resources into the state to defeat the initiative.
Signed into law by Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., in February, the Parent Choice in Education Act would offer tuition scholarships to each of Utah's 500,000 public school students and to all low-income children currently attending private schools. The scholarships would be worth between $500 and $3,000, with students from lower-income families receiving greater assistance. By 2020, every child in the state would be eligible to attend a school of choice with a scholarship.
Utahans for Public Schools - a coalition backed by the state teachers unions and school boards association, the NAACP, and the ACLU - led a petition drive to force a ballot referendum on the new legislation. More recently, the National Education Association funneled $1.5 million into the anti-school choice campaign.
In the weeks ahead, Utah voters will face a barrage of campaign commercials claiming the new school voucher program will devastate public education in the state. But the evidence from states that have implemented school choice suggests this is just fear-mongering.
Based on that evidence, here's what Utahans can expect from school choice:
Surveys and focus groups of families participating in scholarship programs find that parents are more satisfied with their children's schools when they have choice.
Students who use scholarships to transfer into private schools will likely improve academically.
Schools will respond positively to greater parental choice, taking steps to treat parents and students as valued customers.
But none of this evidence makes any difference to the National Education Association and other education special interest groups. For them, this referendum - and the school choice issue generally - is all about control. Who should control the $500 billion spent on K-12 public education each year-parents or the education establishment?
Dan Lips is education analyst at the Heritage Foundation and a senior fellow with the Goldwater Institute
Heritage Foundation: Vouchers Offer Hope to Failing U.S. Students
Goldwater Institute: School Vouchers: Constitutionally Permissible in Arizona
Cato Institute: A Voucher Victory