By Andrea Christensen
A controversial provision regarding school vouchers in Bush”s proposed education initiative violates two clauses in the Utah Constitution which prohibit public funding of religious organizations.
Since Bush introduced the program entitled, “No Child Left Behind,” on Jan. 23, many members of Congress have been claiming that Bush is over-stepping his bounds as a leader by trying to mandate, at a federal level, law that should be determined by the states.
In his proposal, Bush wrote of the need to hold schools accountable by creating “consequences for schools that fail to educate disadvantaged students.”
If, for three years, a failing school does not make progress, as determined by state testing, students would be able to use funds, or vouchers, to transfer to private schools or higher-performing public schools.
Angela Edwards, a former fifth-grade teacher in Davis County, Utah, said that although the idea of vouchers is a good one, they would ultimately be more harmful than helpful because they would take money away from already struggling schools.
“I think competition is good, and that”s what it”s going to do — it is going to create competition,” she said. “But I think a lot of times public schools are doing the best they can.”
“I really believe teachers need to be accountable, but it”s scary. It”s a lot of funding that the public schools would lose,” Edwards said. “As a parent I would favor (the voucher program), but as a teacher, it”s kind of scary.”
Not only does the voucher provision have congressional Democrats and moderate Republicans claiming that Bush is trying to usurp state power, it also has lawmakers claiming that the clause violates the constitutional separation of church and state by giving federal money to parochial schools.
Indeed, the provision would actually be unlawful according to Utah”s current constitution.
Article I, Section 4 of the constitution states, “No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or for the support of any ecclesiastical establishment.”
Article X, Section 9 likewise states, “Neither the state of Utah nor its political subdivisions may make any appropriation for the direct support of any school or educational institution controlled by any religious organization.”
Despite the apparent unconstitutionality of the provision, the public is nonetheless split on the issue.
According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken earlier this month, approximately 48 percent of the nation”s citizens support vouchers and 50 percent oppose them.
An additional concern surrounding the program is the fact that students in failing schools would be granted a voucher worth approximately $1,500 a year, but most private schools cost much more than that. The Waterford School, a liberal arts school in Sandy, Utah, costs $8,400 a year for kindergarten students and $12,375 a year for eighth-grade through 12th-grade students.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of tuition at a private school for the 1993-94 school year was $3,116. Thus, critics claim, even with the vouchers, many poor students would not be able to attend private schools because they would not be able to afford the expenses.
The voucher program is being tried in Cleveland, Milwaukee and areas of Florida, although a court recently deemed it unconstitutional in Cleveland.
Vicky Edwards, a Highland resident who moved with her family from a Milwaukee suburb last year, said that, despite controversy, the voucher program in Milwaukee was beneficial and would likely improve education in Utah as well.
“It forces public schools to step up, because it”s a free-market competition,” she said. “Even in Utah, I”m sorry to say, the public schools need to step up.”