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Wednesday, November 14, 2007
More Voucher Aftermath

A note on voucher-related political payback, the discussion of what to do with the state funds which cannot be spent on vouchers. I suggest we apply to funds to solving a specific, significant educational problem in Utah.

Payback Time

Yesterday I noted that some public education officials in Utah have expressed concerns about possible payback for the voucher referendum's defeat. Understandably, some voucher proponents in the Utah Legislature might be inclined to punish the public schools in next year's budget. I predicted that the real payback will go in the other direction, in well-funded attempts in 2008 to defeat legislators who voted for vouchers.

I really don't deserve much credit for being right. But I was. This Salt Lake Tribune article notes in passing that these retaliatory efforts against voucher supporters were already underway last week. That's politics, folks.

They Really Think Every Dollar Is Rightfully Theirs

I'm kicking myself for not predicting this next one, because it would have been quite obvious, had I stopped to think about it for, oh, two or three seconds.

We were told disingenuously a thousand times during the voucher debate that vouchers would take money from the public schools. In fact, the money for vouchers was to come from the state's general fund, not the education fund, which relies on a completely different set of revenues. Any pretense that voucher opponents didn't understand this is now shattered. According to a Daily Herald article last Friday, they are asking for those dollars, which cannot now be used for vouchers, to be given to the very public education system they claimed the dollars would be taken from if vouchers survived the referendum.

A variety of legislators, including voucher proponents, are quoted in the article suggesting that the money probably will be devoted to education somehow.

A Different Sort of Mitigation Monies

Here's my idea:

Many Utah high school graduates -- a shocking percentage, really -- must take remedial math or English, or both, upon arriving on the college campuses of their choice. This is quite reasonably regarded as a failure of Utah public schools to teach students the most basic things graduates should know. However, the cost presently is not borne by the public schools which fail. Students and their parents pay the costs, in the form of tuition and time which much be devoted to remedial courses.

So let's give those former voucher funds to higher education institutions in Utah, to be dispersed as scholarships based on academic need to students who graduated from Utah high schools, but still need remedial math or English when they get to college. This would be a great benefit to families living in the Alpine School District, for example. ASD is one of Utah colleges' leading suppliers of college freshmen with seriously deficient math and English skills.

A guy can dream, right? So the next step would be, once the Legislature is in session, to pass a law that somehow requires public school districts in Utah to be financially accountable for the costs of all this remediation. Perhaps a certain mandated dollar amount per graduate could be put in escrow somehow each year in June, after graduation. Each high school could then pay the next year's remediation bill from this fund, and any funds left over in May could be distributed as bonuses to teachers who taught in that school during the years that batch of graduates spent there.

This is simple and perhaps a bit crude, but it would provide some financial incentives and rewards for performance. I don't expect love notes from the UEA or the PTA, though. I am well aware unions resist anything merit-based, and that publicly-funded institutions prefer to measure success by dollars expended, not by production (as in the quality of education students receive). Measuring and rewarding results are for businesses and other entities which must compete in a free market. Public schools are above such vulgar notions of accountability, as Utah voters have recently affirmed.

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