Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Vouchers versus CTC Scholarships, Part II

Today's goal is two-fold:

1.) Point out some of the philosophical differences between vouchers and CTC scholarships.

2.) Discuss how these philosophical differences could affect the CTC push in Utah.

Numero uno:

School choice opponents are often quick to label tax credit scholarships as "vouchers," however, in reality, the two models operate quite differently - and have different philosophical underpinnings.

Vouchers come from public tax dollars - essentially, as money "returned" to the citizen for his/her own use. Voucher systems function on the belief that individuals have the right to control how their tax dollars are used for their children's education. Generally, voucher programs are proposed as "universal" and available to all residents of a particular state. This fits with their underlying philosophy - after all, if one family has the right to decide how its tax dollars are used, all other families should have the same.

On the contrary, corporate tax credit scholarships are created by the donations of various corporations. The donating corporation is the one who receives the tax credit; the student is the individual who receives a scholarship for private school. Rather than emphasize taxpayers' rights, CTC programs emphasize a philosophy of responsible business. They are also generally targeted to a specific audience - low-income families, for example. This results in a feel-good situation for both businesses and the general public. By participating in a CTC program, businesses enjoy a tax break and the squishy "I made a difference" feeling while families receive the money they need and the comforting thought that Big Business cares.

Numero dos:

The difference between "taxpayers' rights" and a focus on philanthropy cannot be understated for the Utah case. Utah's legislators would be seriously remiss to assume that their constituents who favored vouchers will also support a CTC scholarship program. My guess, based on what happened earlier this month, is that Utah's citizens will not be particularly enthusiastic about CTC scholarships.

To back this up, I must again refer to the Salt Lake Tribune poll, which found that only 6% of Utah voucher supporters favored the program because it would "help the poor." For most voucher supporters, "parental choice" was the driving factor in their approval. However, if a CTC program is initiated, it is likely to be restricted to low-income families. Thus, it will focus exclusively on helping the poor.

It's a recipe for resistance. While voters may not decide the future of this program, they'll have plenty to say to their legislators, who will be listening.

Additional Notes:

One of the most common misconceptions and fears about the Utah voucher program was that it would "take money away from public schools." Since the CTC program clearly has nothing to do with public funds, Utahns may be much more supportive of it despite the fact that it conflicts with some of their original reasons for supporting vouchers.

I will also be watching to see how the idea of competition figures into this debate - will the proposed CTC program actually provide enough scholarships and influence to change the public system itself? We shall see...

Tomorrow Wednesday Issue is Career and Technical Education, so stay tuned for some good information and hopefully, lively discussion!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think the Salt Lake Tribune polling data says a lot both about why the Nov. 2007 campaign failed and, possibly, about why a corporate tax rebate plan might still succeed.

Here's a quote from a pro-voucher advocate in the Tribune article:

"That is our target audience. We knew we had to make it a matter of the heart, as well as self-interest," Mero says. "I'm looking into white faces and I'm saying, 'I know it's not your problem, but you need to know it's a problem to those people over there. Have a heart.' "

BAD IDEA! Why try to argue sympathy for the poor when (1) only 6% of supporters think that's the most important reason to support vouchers and (2) it reinforces the let's-spend-MORE-money-reinforcing- public-schools mindset (many people probably see further investment in the public schools as the best thing society does for the poor, because they don't appreciate the absolute degeneracy of many public schools today or the structural reasons more money isn't the answer).

In its own bizarre way, explaining that the Nov. 2007 voucher vote would have been paid for out of general Utah funds rather than the public school system might have been too complicated for voters to understand (or sound a little too good to be true). That's why I think the idea of corporate tax credits will probably have much more appeal. The greatest fear of the average Utahan on the street, I think, is that their little Suzie or Joey will show up to the first day of (public) school and there will be no crayons anymore because the budget was cut to pay for vouchers for other people's kids. The poverty argument reinforces that view, and says "You, average voter, are fundamentally different from the kind of person who would use vouchers, but support them anyway!" Everyone understands and sympathizes with the idea that parents want to help their children learn. That strikes me as a much better message.

When it's clear that the money is coming from somewhere outside the current educational system, it seems much more like a bonus and less like a threat. No one understands how corporate taxes affect him or her, and so converting anonymous, invisible tax money into tangible vouchers for kids (and only the kids who need it most) seems to me like it will have a lot of appeal. I admire those Utah legislators--they don't give up!