Utah voucher advocates take low road

Utah’s voucher referendum vote is just over six weeks away. From here in Dallas, it appears the anti-voucher forces are leading.

Why do I say that without looking at a single poll? The pro-voucher forces have gone dirty, by Utah political standards: They’re pushing an opinion piece that says God and the Mormon pioneers favor vouchers, according to an AP report via KSL.com (radio and television).

It the occasionally peculiar language of Utah politics, it’s a desperate move, intentionally below the belt, in hopes of crippling the opposition so a win by default must be declared, even over the foul.

A conservative think tank is distributing a lengthy essay on the history of education in Utah that implies that if Mormons don’t vote in favor of the state’s school voucher law that they could face cultural extinction.

The “conservative think tank” is the Sutherland Institute (SI), which would be a far-right wing group in most other places. SI published a 40-page brief in favor of the Utah voucher plan, and its director, Paul Mero, is on the road in Utah speaking before every Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce and gathering of checkers players he can find. An excerpt appears at their website, and this appears to be the subject of the current controversy.

Education is one of the key values of the Latter-day Saints Church (LDS or Mormon). “Knowledge is the glory of God,” reads one inscription on a gate leading to the church’s flagship school in Provo, Brigham Young University (BYU).  Schools were always among the first things built in new Mormon settlements.  The University of Utah — originally the University of Deseret — is the oldest public university west of the Missouri, founded in 1850.  Mormons take pride in their getting of education, and in the education establishments they’ve created.

Mero’s argument is that the Mormons were forced to give up their private schools for public schools in the anti-polygamy controversies leading up to Utah statehood in 1896.  This is a weak hook upon which to hang the voucher campaign.  He’s trying to appeal to Mormons who worry about government interference in religion.

The foundations of his argument do not hold up well.  “[LDS] Church spokesman Mark N. Tuttle issued a two-sentence response to the essay, saying the church hasn’t taken a position on school vouchers,” the AP article notes.

Utah’s voucher program is the standard vampire voucher structure, taking money away from public schools in favor of private and sectarian schools, and not putting any new money into public schooling.  When the Utah legislature passed the program, public opposition was so strong that a petition to put in on the ballot as a referendum captured a record number of signatures in a record period of time.

More to come, certainly.

6 Responses to Utah voucher advocates take low road

  1. Roger surprised me with his patience and his intellectual and theological approach to Elder Woo’ s probing questions. “ From what I understand your teachings don’ t teach the Trinity and that Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit are all the same… your faith teaches you that Jesus and Satan are bothers…” Back and forth they went and I said a prayer for Roger that he would have wisdom but in my mind I couldn’ t help but have doubt. Doubt that Elder Woo was going to change his mind in just one night. For Mormons…


  2. Ed Darrell says:


    1. Families in Utah have overwhelmingly chosen public education. That has been their choice since 1847, repeatedly, increasingly, and enthusiastically. The proposed vampire voucher plan is to frustrate those choices by sucking money away from public schools.

    2. Competition between public and private universities is a much different manner — they’re competing for the top 20% of students, and they are not required to educate the bottom 50%.

    3. In the competition between public and private universities, public universities are not penalized for students who choose private schools, unlike Utah’s vampire voucher plan.

    4. Utah’s public schools perform very well in international testing, and national testing. Utah has a surplus of foreign language speakers, and until recently had the highest per capita educational attainment of any state in the nation. Historically, Utah’s public schools perform well above many states’ best private schools. Private schools perform no better educating the general public on any measure.

    5. Utah’s richest families attend public schools. They go where the quality is. All of Utah’s Rhodes Scholars are products of public schools, so far as I have been able to determine.

    6. Vouchers do not equalize poor families’ ability to attend private schools. Students are still stuck without transportation and extracurricular support, not to mention library and home library support.

    7. The average Utah student would have to travel 40 to 50 miles to attend a private school. Some would have a commute of 300 to 400 miles. The poorest families tend to have the longest commutes. The Utah voucher program cannot help these students without massive infusions of money, which is not provided.

    8. Vouchers suck money out of the public schools. The Utah voucher plan proposes that all money allotted to the education of a student who chooses a private school will be taken away from the school. This leaves LESS money for remaining students (do the math, as taught in public schools). This is NOT a new money program; the legislature refused to increase appropriations to cover the losses to public schools.

    9. Money to religious colleges does not run afoul of First Amendment issues for a variety of reasons that do not apply to elementary and secondary education. BYU has tried to limit federal funding so as to remain exempt from equal opportunity education laws; I suspect that policy, which existed from the late 1960s until I left the Department of Education in 1987, still exists at BYU. As a pragmatic matter under the law, federal aid to students leaves the student with the choice of where to spend it. That avoids the First Amendment issues, according to the Supreme Court in the Grove City case, which would prevent government aid to the colleges themselves.

    So, yes, it is still an issue in K-12 education. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are pulling your leg, or quite ill-informed about the U.S. Constitution and aid to education issues.

    Family is the foundation of society. Government, if it works well, secures the liberties that allow families to have choices. ‘Just governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed,’ to paraphrase Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence. Utah families have voted for 160 years to have public schools, and not to finance private schools with tax funds. Why do you advocate having government rescind that choice from Utah families?


  3. Josh says:

    Family is the foundation of society, not government. Parents should be able to decide which school is best for their children, whether public or private. As we’ve learned from the university system, competition between public and private schools leads to greater responsiveness and progress in both. As a result, our university system is the envy of the world. Why not extend that to our K-12 education system? (Currently, our public schools perform quite poorly in international testing.) The wealthy already have the ability to choose between public and private schools. All vouchers do is extend that opportunity to low-income families. In addition, anyone who receives a voucher leaves more funding for other students remaining in the public system. With the Utah voucher, no money is taken from public schools–it comes from the general fund. It also relieves the public schools of some of the overcrowding, which is a major problem in Utah.

    On the question of constitutionality, the United States Supreme Court ruled vouchers constitutional in Zelman_v._Simmons-Harris, and religious universities like BYU and Notre Dame already receive public funds in the form of government grants and loans, so it obviously never was a constitutional issue in K-12 either.



  4. John Moeller says:

    Madmouser, whether or not you’re for public education, this voucher bill is crap. This is a matter of taxpayer money being spent in a way that is pretty dubious.

    I oppose the voucher issue for multiple reasons; not the least of which are that I support public education *and* I don’t want my tax money spent in such a slipshod fashion.


  5. madmouser says:

    I am against the government schools, sorry, guys.


  6. John Moeller says:

    When I heard about this, I was incensed. Low-brow indeed. Thanks for posting this. I’ve been trying to encourage my fellow Utahns to vote this referendum down:



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