By Meg Jalsevac

  WASHINGTON, DC, November 8, 2007 ( – Utah voters took to the polls on Tuesday, November 6 to vote on the recently passed ‘Parent Choice in Education’ legislation.  The defeat by a 3 to 2 margin is being blamed by many in the pro-voucher camp on excessive funding poured into the anti-school choice campaign by public school teacher’s unions rather than genuine support from parents who think public school is the best option for the state’s children.

  The Utah voucher legislation was considered a highly progressive educational initiative that would have eventually provided varying levels of public financial assistance in the form of vouchers for attendance at a school of choice to every child in the state.  According to the long range plan for the voucher system, by the end of the fifth year of the transition period, the system was projected to generate income for the state budget over and above educational costs.

  The battle to approve the voucher system was largely lead by the parent run local organization ‘Parents for Choice in Education’.  Members voiced their disappointment at the defeat of the initiative saying on their website, “It is unfortunate that families who need another option have been stripped of their ability to choose a school that meets the needs of their children.”

  The big money fight against the vouchers was lead primarily by teacher’s unions who bombarded the Utah public with high priced ads insinuating that the new legislation would result in the demise of the entire public school system. They did not mention that the system was merely a means for parents to exercise more freedom in choosing schools. 

  The Utah teacher’s union involved in defeating the voucher proposal was funded by unions around the country as it was believed the Utah voucher system would have been used as a precedent for similar initiatives in other states.

  According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Kim Campbell, head of the Utah Education Association, campaigned in Washington, DC to seek over $3 million in funds from the National Education Association.  In DC, Ms. Campbell said that her strategy to defeat the education option would be “ugly, mean and expensive.”

  Supporters of school choice argued that allowing parents more freedom in education choices would not only provide better opportunities for all children but would provide more equality for minority children or children in low-income families. 

  Patrick Byrne, the CEO of and a large financial backer of the effort to approve the voucher system, said of the Utah vote, “It’s overwhelmingly clear that minority children are not important.” 

  John Neuhaus of First Things also commented on the recent Utah defeat saying that the “moral case standing on its own is not enough to persuade the majority of voters. The moral case is focused on the plight of the disadvantaged, especially the urban underclass, mainly black and Latino, in our larger cities… [Parents] may have a twinge of conscience about their selfishness, but the teachers-union propaganda about vouchers taking money away from their own schools is powerfully effective.”

  Concerned parents and other supporters of the voucher system have not lost hope despite the ballot defeat. There is discussion about possibly supporting an education tax credit program as the next effort.

  While the cost of providing public education has steadily increased, the educational results of public schooling are seen to have steadily declined.  Despite federal programs such as the Bush administration’s ‘No Child Left Behind’, the US has consistently ranked low in international scholarship comparisons.

  In 2002, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that school voucher systems were constitutional.  At the time of the decision, then-Chief Justice Rehnquist commented on educational vouchers saying, “It permits such individuals to exercise genuine choice among options public and private, secular and religious. The program is therefore a program of true private choice.” 

  In 2000, then-Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Sodano stated that voucher systems were “a good idea” because it left the choice of schools more appropriately in the hands of parents.  Bishops in both the US and Canada have voiced their approval of similar voucher systems.  The Catholic Church has long taught that parents are to be the primary educators of their children.

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