Defeat in Utah Means Shift in Tactics

In a rather resounding vote on Tuesday, Utah voters killed the nation’s first statewide school voucher program that promised tax dollars for private tuition, no matter how much a family earned or whether kids were in bad schools. For supporters of school choice, this was a major setback, more so because the legislation that had originally been passed by one vote in the Utah Legislature was easily the broadest school choice program in the nation.
Utah is exactly the kind of state that might support school choice, but it looks like even in a friendly state, broad-based voucher programs are vulnerable. So, what is the solution? I believe that tax credits are a better option than vouchers. Rather than relying on the government to divert tax dollars to private schools, tax credits enable individuals to decide how to divert their money to school choice efforts while taking a credit against their taxes. This provides an additional “check” against wasteful or problematic scholarship organizations that don’t fulfill their missions or serve the public. Vouchers are just another government program that lack the level of community ownership found with credits.
Tax credits also poll much better than vouchers and should be the focus of reform efforts. Even left-wing New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is on board with tax credits. Vouchers just don’t seem viable outside of Milwaukee and a few other limited programs.
Thankfully, the Rio Grande Foundation and other education reform advocates have united around tax credits as the best available solution to New Mexico’s education woes.