Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Nuts and Bolts of Voucher Funding -- Part 1--Each student in Utah does NOT cost $7500 to educate

The funding argument is crucial in the voucher debate because it is abused by Parents for Choice in Education, the pro-voucher legislators, and the Eyre’s Oreo cookie ad to convince people that the voucher “experiment” will save money. Some of my neighbors have expressed more or less the sentiment, “Why not try something different if it saves the schools money?”

I believe that I can clearly explain some complex concepts that have been clouded in the debate, showing the damage to our public school system. I hope all will give thought to the long-term implications of a universal voucher law.

These are five MAJOR untruths perpetuated by voucher proponents about the voucher bill funding. The first four deal with the actual cost of a student who switches from a public school to a private school using a voucher; the last one explains HB 148’s hidden cost of $71,000,000 a year when fully implemented:

  1. Using the $7500 dollars per student funding statistic as an indicator of classroom spending or savings.
  1. Ignoring, or deliberately diverting attention from the true amount of money the state actually sends districts per student in WPU and MSP.
  1. Misrepresenting the mitigation money as a full refund for the money lost from the voucher and allowing the misconception that the mitigation money goes directly back to the affected school.
  1. Claiming that the schools won’t lose any money because the voucher check itself is written from the General Fund rather than the Uniform School Fund.
  1. Subsidizing the tuition for ALL private school students forever, but phasing in the implementation of that aspect of the bill over thirteen years to hide “what will become essentially a subsidy for students who would have attended private school in any case.” —Randy Raphael, Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst, 2-16-07

Untruth #1: Using the $7500 dollars per student funding statistic as an indicator of classroom spending or savings.

First, the public schools are designed so that each tax dollar benefits many students at once, not just one individual. That $7500 statistic is NOT a traveling sum of money that can be given to or taken away from a school as a student enrolls or leaves. The WPU is a set amount given to each district according to number of students enrolled, but it is allotted to the district as a lump sum, not for individuals. This quote from the official budget page on WPU is instructive: “The WPU is not a plan of expenditure, or budget, for the school district or charter school to follow but a mechanism to derive total program cost and distribute revenues.” Did you get that? The WPU is not a budget, and neither are the rest of the state allocated funds. The statistic of total funding per student was devised as a way to objectively compare states with drastically different numbers of kids. It is a blunt comparison tool and a way to divide monies out to the districts.

The WPU and other monies were never intended to show exactly what was spent on each kid. Just imagine one student in one classroom, and try to make the numbers work in your head. There is no way to rationally conclude that each student uses a unique $7500 dollars. Almost all of the costs are spread out, shared, and fixed, whether it be personnel, facilities, or equipment. Here is the source of the $7500 estimate for the 2008 school year, the Utah Taxpayers Association. This entry links to their 2006 annual report:

Read all nine categories they include in their “total spending per student.” Now think of what money in these categories will actually be saved by a student leaving the school. The marginal cost of individual students coming and going is a few bucks in paper and supplies. Next, look at the spreadsheet on the second page and find the percentages of Local, State, and Federal funding. The state government only funded 49% of Salt Lake District’s budget in 2006, but all of those federal and local funds (Such as the $229 million dollar bond passed by Alpine District last November that exclusively funds construction and upkeep.) are counted in the $7500 per student a year.

HB 148 only deals with state dispersed education funding. The individual districts collect local and federal funds independently of the state budget process and it is dishonest to say those funds are “left over” to spread around the classroom. Most local funds are specifically tied up in buildings and interest on the huge building loans, and most federal funds most be spent on very specific programs that benefit all students.

Part 2 is coming tonight or tomorrow.

1 comment:

Lisa Shepherd said...

"Education on Vouchers: A Look at All Sides" debate.
Provo High School 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov 1st.

This will be a very interesting debate! You won't want to miss it.