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Friday, November 2, 2007
Vouchers: A Report, an Ad, and an Op/Ed

That University of Utah report, a good recent ad about vouchers and future growth, and a good column in the Daily Herald.

The Much-Ballyhooed Report

First, about that report . . .

The University of Utah Center for Policy and Public Administration issued a brief report on the voucher referendum the other day. News reports said some Utah legislators were complaining that its timing was politically motivated. But I read the report today -- rather quickly, I admit -- and it looks very much like what it purports to be: a reasonably even-handed explanation of the law and the major arguments for and against it. When would you release such a thing, if not before the election?

I don't understand why legislators who favor vouchers would have their knickers in a knot over this, unless they haven't read it. Getting the facts out about the law as it actually exists is a pro-voucher activity, if anything, in a debate where the opposition's chief strategy has been making arguments that can easily be disproven by reading the bill itself. And as for the person in a recent Provo meeting who supposedly referred to the report as bolstering the anti-voucher position, that's just unbelievable.

Except that it is believable in this debate, where the opposition doesn't seem to have read the bill before making their talking points against it. (The flyer about the Provo meeting that my child brought home from school didn't get the report-issuing University right, and it didn't get the date of Election Day right, either, by the way.)

In this debate, the following position is actually rabidly partisan, but . . . I suggest you read and decide for yourself -- just as you should with HB 148 and HB 174.

In any case, I'm not inclined to take the entire report as gospel truth. The fiscal estimates are based on guesses multiplied by guesses, to project things as much as 13 years into the future. Good luck with that. And I still see no attempt to estimate how much growth pressure vouchers may relieve over the next 10 years for the public schools, when student populations are expected to grow about 30 percent. This may reflect the typical government fondness for static models, even when a dynamic model is more accurate (as recently discussed here at the blog).

In any event, this rapid growth will be an enormous strain on the public schools and quite likely the taxpayers as well. How much pressure will vouchers relieve? I'm still waiting for a good, clear analysis. (Has anyone seen one? Send me a link.) The true fiscal cost or benefit of vouchers cannot be clear until we have some idea how many dollars' worth of growth in the public schools they will avert from year to year. (The public schools need not fear, by the way; they'll be growing even if there are vouchers. 150,000 is a lot of new students.)

A Pretty Good Radio Ad

Meanwhile, a new radio ad does a pretty good job describing the growth challenges in relatively few words. It's from Business Leaders for Referendum #1. (Here's the audio in MP3 format, and here's the transcript as a Word doc; both files are as sent by the organization.) Their Web site briefly discusses the growth issues mentioned above, but it doesn't look like a thorough analysis.

Clayne Pope Opinion

The Daily Herald has published a guest opinion column by Clayne Pope, a BYU economist, which makes some interesting arguments. Here's a thought: He says educators have a special, solemn duty to educate. I'll accept that. I suggest this extension of that logic: Voters have a special, solemn duty to get educated as to how society and government work, how economics works, what a bill really says, etc., before they vote. Voting without doing this is a lot like trying to drive a car down the freeway at high speed when you have never actually learned to drive. The likely outcome is a big mess.

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