FYI paragraph: District 1 incumbent Teresa Theurer was given a low score by the voting committee, despite getting 64% of the public vote in 2006. As that last link explains, Governor Huntsman in June just cut the person scored lowest by his biased committee from the ballot. I don't personally know anything about Teresa Theurer. Tom at KVNU, whose commentary I valued even when I didn't agree with him, said "Teresa is one of the most brilliant public officials I’ve ever met." I think a public official should be able to stand for re-election. A politically appointed committee filtering the candidates has corrupted the process in my opinion. You can listen to a podcast of a KVNU interview with Theurer on June 3rd here--I think I remember it's in the 2nd hour. I'll try and listen again soon and find what minute the interview starts.
So I found the entire process in District 1 frustrating. I'm personally glad Roberta Herzberg dropped out, and I want to highlight her study again. Here's the link to the study, posted at the Parent's for Choice in Education website. The authoring information is on page 4. The Executive summary begins by explaining the fight over vouchers and tuition tax credits in 2003 and 2004. It argues the Legislative Fiscal Analyst's (LFA) estimates of "switch rates" and cost are faulty. They said the LFA set the variable or marginal cost per student in 2003 at $2,793.
The next paragraph reads:
While these estimates flowed from the best existing information available under the time constraints, they were deemed inadequate to inform debate on such a critical issue. Based on the desire to have a more complete measure of the impact of the proposed policy change, Utah’s Legislative Management Committee commissioned this study. Over the course of the last four months, a team of scholars from Utah State University and Southern Utah University designed an econometric simulation model and qualitative studies of the effects of implementing tuition tax credits (TTC) on Utah educational demand and supply decisions. This report contains the results of that effort.
Translation: The legislature didn't like the truth so casually stated by their own employees (the legislative fiscal analysts), so they found some professors willing to cook up something a little more complicated. I don't know what exactly an econometric simulation model is, but I do know "qualitative" studies are not appropriate measures of exact figures of dollars and cents. "Quantitative" studies, as you might guess from the name, are the types of studies that can measure exact numbers and figures.
Focusing just on the financial aspects of the study, here is the cost conclusion from the Executive Summary (I underlined two sentences for emphasis):
A second consideration critical to good decision making with respect to this policy is an estimate of the costs associated with a student coming into or leaving the public school system. The legislature needs to know how much will be saved, at the margin, if a student is induced to make an educational choice outside of the Utah public school system. This value is known to economists as marginal cost. We estimate marginal cost per weighted pupil unit (WPU) in 2002-2003 to be $8,675 for the typical Utah school district. All Utah school districts have estimated marginal costs in the range of $7,700 to $10,350. It is a testament to the worthiness of our schools that they invest so much in each additional student. But, this is then also the value that the state and local districts can be expected to save from public school appropriations if a single student leaves a publicly funded school. This figure significantly exceeds per student spending (which was about $6,500 in 2002) or spending per WPU which was just under $6,000 in 2003 (economists call these measures average total cost). This is to be expected and is a natural result of school district managers doing their job well. The principle behind marginal cost is the cost of producing one additional (or one less) unit of output from the current level of production. This is critical to decision making because all decisions are fundamentally about changing production from one level to another. In this case, Utah is concerned about how a tuition tax credit will change enrollments and costs from their current level. The cost of those changes is the basis for making decisions. Costs not related to that change are irrelevant to a decision about change; however, they may be important for evaluating overall business performance.
The authors throw around the term WPU very casually. To clarify, the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) is the amount the state government sends each district per student. (Be sure to read the 2nd paragraph of that link closely. In 2002, it was $2116 per student. Substantially more is sent for Special Ed. and ESL students. The $6500 per student spending figure above is calculated the same way the Utah Taxpayer’s Association calculated the $7200 per student for the voucher debate last year: it includes money not gathered by the state and costs spent on every imaginable expense related to education, including fixed costs such as those incurred by individual districts to build new schools. For example, they divide out the $20 million or so being spent to build the new high school in Saratoga Springs into a portion per student for the entire state and pretend that the state somehow saves that money by a kid from St. George going to private school.
So follow the logic. In 2002, the state of Utah sent each district $2116 for the average student. If you throw in all of the federal, district, and trustlands money NOT sent by the state, but spent on fixed cost programs throughout the entire state, you can get a total spent per student figure of $6200. (See the argument about school construction above, or think of this: when the school buys a computer for a lab, it does not get a pro-rated refund when one of the hundreds of kids who use that computer leaves the school. The money is spent.) This study actually claimed that when that same student left the district to attend private school, the district magically saved $8675. Wow. It’s easy!! Just enroll kids in the district and pay them $2116. Then take the kids back out and charge the district $8675. Budget crisis solved, plenty of money to fund vouchers, and public school system severely weakened or dissolved as this “magic money” keeps being deducted. If you want to see the abstracted figures the authors use to destroy logic, it starts around page 45 of the study.
I saw the $1 billion savings figure floated regularly in PCE ads and in letters from Senator Valentine and Representative Curtis. (The blog that had the copy of the letter deleted all of its voucher stuff. Does anyone have a link or copy of that letter lying around? The one in the last day or two before the vote.) They were based on these lies. Many voucher supporters believe them still today. Senator Dayton never read the study. I'm doubting many other legislators did either. I used a strong word in my title and I stand by it: educational fraud.