School Choice: Today, Utah; Tomorrow, How About Providence?

The Sisto family school choice program reminds me of another news story that is not receiving the attention it should be getting. This fall, Utah will become the first state in the nation to implement a universal school-choice voucher plan. Here is a description of the program, from Dan Lips and Evan Feinberg of the Heritage Foundation

The “Parent Choice in Education” Act will provide scholarships to assist families that choose to send their children to private schools. The scholarship amount varies between $500 and $3,000 depending on family income.
All current public school students will be able to use a voucher to transfer to a private school. Among current private school students, only those who meet the income guidelines for the federal free and reduced school lunch program will be eligible to receive scholarships. Moving forward, all students entering kindergarten in 2007 and thereafter will be eligible to use scholarships to attend a school of choice. This means that by 2020 all children in the state will be eligible to participate.
In order to admit students participating in the voucher program, private schools must meet a number of guidelines. For example, they must administer a nationally norm-referenced test, report individual test results to parents, and report school-wide performance results to the state government. Further, participating private schools must disclose information relating to teachers’ credentials and the school’s accreditation status. Schools also must have an independent auditor assess relevant information about the school’s budget and accounting procedures and include this information in the school’s application to the state….
The program is structured to spare public schools a portion of the potential revenue losses that result from students transferring into private schools. When a student leaves a public school, the legislation requires the state to continue to supply that public school’s district the portion of the per-pupil funding that is over and above the state-wide average voucher amount, and to continue doing so for a period of five years following the transfer or until the student was scheduled to graduate. Unfortunately, this will minimize the voucher program’s competitive effect that might otherwise spur innovation in the public school system.
Dave Talan proposed a plan similar to the Utah plan in his recent campaign for mayor of Providence. (Unlike Mr. Sisto, Mr. Talan thinks that school choice should be extended to everyone, not just his own family). Mr. Talan’s plan was a little more libertarian than the Utah plan, calling for a flat voucher amount, regardless of family income, and skipping the part where the public system keeps any aid associated with students who leave.
Suppose we merged some of the features from the Utah plan into the Talan plan. Is there any reason it couldn’t work here?

Show your support for Anchor Rising with a 25-cent-per-day subscription.