Let the people decide what to do about public education

Mel Gibson’s famous shout in “The Patriot” has been on my mind in recent days: “Why should I agree to trade one tyrant 3,000 miles away for 3,000 tyrants one mile away?”

Our Founding Fathers fought with vigor and blood that political power ought to rest in the people. Patrick Henry cried angrily against British tyranny, “Give me liberty or give me death!” This idea of democratic self-determination lies in the hearts of all Americans. Except, of course, in the Utah Legislature.

Poll after poll after poll shows that a large majority of Utahns care about public education more than any other issue. A recent Dan Jones poll showed that 56 percent of Utahns do not want their tax dollars going to fund private schools. Despite these numbers, which members of Utah’s Legislature know in and out, they passed a bill — by one vote — that would provide funding for private schools. Utahns don’t want this. But, as usual, the Legislature ignores the public will.

In response to this undemocratic behavior, a group of citizens called Utahns for Public Schools organized a petition campaign to place a referendum of the voucher bill on the ballot. This would allow all Utahns to vote if they want their tax dollars going to private schools.

All U students ought to support this initiative. Almost 96 percent of all students attend public schools in Utah (the highest rate in the nation). This new voucher law is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars for private, mostly religious, schools. This is money that could be used to help Utah’s public education system — which spends the lowest amount of money in the country on its kids.

Voucher proponents state that the voucher bill will help low-income Utah families. If this is true, why don’t they have the support of low-income organizations? Why aren’t there droves of poor people crowding the Legislature in support of school vouchers?

The answer, obviously, is that vouchers will NOT help people living in poverty. The bill gives an average $3,000 voucher per year to parents who send their kids to private schools. One of Utah’s top private schools, Rowland Hall, charges $12,450 for kindergarten through fifth grades and $14,710 for sixth through 11th grades. After a $3,000 dollar voucher, parents wanting to send their child to Rowland Hall would have to pay more than $9,000 for the remaining tuition. How many low-income families can make up that deficit?

Plus, the voucher bill does not provide any money for transportation of low-income kids. Low-income parents, already possibly juggling two to three jobs, will not be able to transport their kids to the school without help — which means more funding.

The petition drive is under way until April 9 and U students should get out there and help with the drive. To help, contact Utahns for Public Schools at [email protected] or call 268-2161.

Let’s let the people decide if their tax dollars should fund an ill-equipped program. Not the Legislature.

Editor’s Note: Jay Richards is the Volunteer Director for Utahns for Public Schools.