Tuesday, October 30, 2007

To What Extent do Vouchers Make Private School Affordable?

If tuition is $4,500 (the PCE number), vouchers have a significant impact on affordability across both family size and income. If tuition is $6,935 (a Deseret News number), vouchers have very little impact on affordability. I also did the numbers for sending my 2 kids to Ivy Hall at $5,600 per kid. Vouchers have a negligible impact in making Ivy Hall affordable for us (it's not, if you were curious).

Assumptions, model and detailed results given below. If you want the Excel spreadsheet to play with on your own, leave a comment below and I'll send you a copy.

The following graphs express the cost of vouchers as a percentage of annual income assuming that half of eligible children attend private school in a 2 parent home (except for single parent and single child homes). In the graph, the horizontal axis is annual family income. The vertical axis is number of children attending private school. The values on the vertical axis are 1, 1, 2, 3 (sorry for the lack of labels, my medicine kicked in and it happens to cause excruciating headaches and fatigue).

I decided that "affordable" means that tuition accounts for 5% or less of the family income. Affordable is colored blue. "Might be affordable" means that tuition is between 5 and 10% of the family income. Scenarios which might be affordable are colored orange. "Not affordable" means tuition is greater than 10% of the family income.

First up, we'll assume private school costs $4,500 per kid as assumed by Parents for Choice in Education.

Without vouchers, private school is affordable for only families making more than $110,000 and with less than 2.5 kids in private school. Not so good. Private school is maybe affordable for families making more than $60,000 a year and for larger families with more income.

The impact of vouchers on affordability with tuition at $4,500 is striking. With vouchers, all but large families with low income can afford or might be able to afford private school. Using the PCE tuition assumption, vouchers have a significant positive impact on affordability.

Next, we'll redo the numbers using the amended Deseret News numbers, which includes some kind of weighted average tuition which is $6,935.

If tuition is $6,935 then private school is affordable without vouchers only for small families making around $150,000 a year and might be affordable for small families making $70,000 or more.

Vouchers have little impact if tuition is $6,935. There's no significant change in families that can afford private school. Some small families making around $50,000 may be able to afford private school.

We happen to send our twins to a private preschool, all preschools are private so no sympathy cards are being played here, and I sanity-checked my affordability assumptions on our family budget. No problem. We'll send them to private kindergarten next year and kindergarten will be affordable because we'll make it affordable, but that's another story for another time ... maybe later this week depending on how things go.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Clarifying What I Meant by "Cost to Public Education"

In a comment, Bradley reacted to a plausible interpretation of my last post on the cost of vouchers to public it. It was a plausible interpretation of what I said but not what I meant.

Here's what I meant...

Suppose little Jimmy's parents choose to send him to private school next year. Rightfully so, as you point out, Jimmy's public school allotment no longer goes to the public school. That's the way it should be.

But the problem for me is that $500-$3000 of your tax money also follows Jimmy to private school. That's $500-$3000 coming out of tax revenue and into education but not into public education.

I am calling that a cost to public education because that's $500-$3000 that our legislature decided to spend on education (instead of transportation, infrastructure, public safety etc.) but which did not go to public education.

The central question for me is still this: if we can find and extra $40 ish million a year (that's cost to tax payer minus savings to public ed. using the numbers for the 13th year in the Voter Information Guide) to spend on education, then is subsidizing private schools really the right way to spend it?

For a state with the lowest per-pupil spending in the nation already, I think that the answer is no.

If you look at educational outcomes (in terms of % of population with a HS degree for example), no other state in the union spends less on education per capita and gets better results. Imagine what we could do if we were closer to the national average.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Why do vouchers cost public schools money?

My neighbor and I were carpooling home the other day and talking about vouchers. He was surprised, I think, that vouchers will cost public schools money. I knew that they would (from the voter's guide) but couldn't explain why.

I re-read the voter's guide and here's why.

When a student's parents choose to send that student to private school on a voucher, some of that student's oreo stack (ie dollars) remain in the public school. But some go to the private school. Sure. We've seen the ads we know this.

The catch is that the oreo stack only stays in the public school for 5 years. After 5 years, the oreos just go back into the general fund, or something. Maybe they get dunked in milk?

5 years is a long time in school years for a child. But, in the end, the money still goes away.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Other People Question Spending Tax Money on Vouchers

The KSL Editorial Board says "Is Utah's public school system broken and in such disarray that doing something as radical and unproven as directing precious tax dollars toward private schools, many of them parochial, the answer? We think not!"

And Green Jello says "I believe providing more accessibility to private schools would also provide another great option for students who need a non-traditional approach to their education needs if it could be done without creating an additional drain from Utah's taxpayers and from the already underfunded public schools system. However, referendum 1 doesn't succeed in this point. After the 13th year and beyond it would be a drain on the public coffers, and I'm afraid it would be viewed as nothing more than another entitlement program."

I agree with both. Pramahaphil over at Green Jello is even an accountant. I am not very good at accounting, so reading the numbers in the Voter's Guide was all I could handle. Pramahaphil read the Legislative Fiscal Analyst's Report, probably enjoyed it, and reached a similar conclusion to mine.

Cycling Moab with 4 Year Olds


We took the girls down to Moab for the weekend and they were dying to ride their bikes in Moab, just like Daddy did with the Scouts a year ago. So we packed up their bikes and headed to Sand Flats by the Slickrock Trail. And we biked at the Rotary Park down the hill off the road to Sand Flats.

They had a great time. Megan is a pretty good biker for a 4 year old and Ashley is a little more apprehensive so far.

The Rotary Park is a fun green shady oasis in town.
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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Faculty are anti college sports?

[Salt Lake Tribune - Monson: Professors show their annoyance with college athletics]

Monson's citing a reputable study, so he's probably on the right track. But I wasn't surveyed in the study and I just want to go on record as saying that as a college professor myself, I love college sports. In my department, lunch conversations alternate between football and "other stuff" almost all of fall semester.

Then again, in our department, Computer Science, we don't see players from marque sports like football and basketball. I've had a men's diving diver and a women's tennis player. Both were good students and seemed to enjoy the challenge of doing both school and sports.

I suppose that if I were in an, um, easy major like the humanities or public broadcasting, that I might see more marquee sports players in my classes. Ok, easy is probably the wrong word. Let's go with "less time consuming."

If you know any football or basketball players or cheerleaders in a technical major, I'd love to know who they are. So far, I know 0.

I should add that I knew a Utah scholarship football player and met a BYU scholaship basketball player. Both starters. Both very smart impressive people. Seriously. Just don't have a lot of time for demanding majors.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Input needed on field work test sites

In the lab, we are preparing a proposal to a build the technology for capturing the shape, color and reflectance of rock formations using consumer hardware. This technology will allow the general public to virtually visit remote sites and create an archive of fragile rock formations before they are damaged by vandalism or natural causes.

We are looking for a field work test site somewhere in the desert. This will be a place we can visit to test our ideas. We need a place with the following characteristics:

1. Within 2.5 hours of Provo, Utah.
2. Includes a cool looking rock formation. Need to be able to walk around the entire rock formation.
3. Low elevation. We want year-round access.
4. Is between 1 and 2 miles from the closest road. This is negotiable though.

We are thinking of using the Conquistadors near Little Holes Canyon near the Grand Canyon of the San Rafael River, see picture above. The problem with the Conquistadors is that they are next to a 50 foot cliff with loose rock. Safe enough, but safer would be better.

We are also thinking of using the first Pinnacle (following Steve Allen's guidebook) in Pinnacle Canyon off the Tidwell Draw North Road.

Got any other ideas?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Budget Numbers on Vouchers

After reading comments left here and elsewhere, I decided to go do some studying to find the cost of vouchers to the Utah taxpayer. As you might guess, it all depends on which assumptions you make. I'll use the Impartial Analysis in the Voter Information Pamphlet.

In the end though, the question is: If vouchers create an additional tax-payer burden, are vouchers the best way to spend that money?

More specifically: What if we spent the extra cost (if any) of vouchers on teacher raises?

Let's say that there are 30,000 teachers in Utah. (There were about 21,000 in 1999). In the first year, vouchers may only cost the tax payer an extra $3.1 M. Using that number, we could give all teachers about a $100 raise. Not that exciting, but a nice way to say "thanks" to the people who teach our children. The other estimate gives vouchers a $6.0 M net savings to the tax payer. Teachers would need to take a $200 pay cut to fund vouchers the first year. Not that appealing if you are making a teacher salary and if you are trying to actually hire teachers.

It's a lot more interesting in the 13th year (when vouchers are fully phased in). In the 13th year, vouchers cost the taxpayer either an extra $60 M or an extra $43 M depending on which numbers you believe. So the question is: should we use that extra $51.5 M (I used the average) to subsidize private schools or should we use it for public schools? If we use it for public schools, I vote we put it all in teacher raises. Let's say we have 40,000 teachers in 13 years (I made that number up), then we could give all of them a $1287.50 raise. In 2020 dollars, an extra $1287.50 per year won't be a ton of money, but every little bit helps--especially if house prices continue to rise and you want to buy a house.

Vouchers may save money in the first year. But after 13 years, when everyone thinks of them as an entitlement (which is why it's odd that conservative Republicans support them so passionately), they are going to cost additional money. If we are going to spend additional money on education, and I think we should, then let's spend it on making public education better.

And that's why I'll still vote no on vouchers.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Loading a helicopter with 1 skid on the ground

Apparently that's what it took to get these guys out of Grand Staircase Escalante. I saw it happen once on Timpanogos above the Timponooke Basin just below the saddle. It was impressive even from a distance.

[Salt Lake Tribune - Three hikers plucked from wilderness cliff in daring helicopter rescue: "The helicopter flew in this morning, landing one skid on a ledge and opening the door for the three men to jump inside."]

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Secret 18 Mile Loop in North Orem

One of the pending comments was curious about the 18 mile roadie loop I mentioned in a post about the dangers of riding the Provo River Parkway in clueless foot traffic. Since I am sitting in my living room in my new cold weather cycling jacket and not riding my bike (due to rain), I thought I'd take a minute to post that route.

It goes something like this:

Get on 2000 North in Orem, head west. Turn left at the stop sign just before the dump. Head south for a while. At the next stoplight (next to a park, I think it's 400 South), turn left. Ride west to 400 east. At 400 east, turn left again. Head north for a while. Turn left on 2000 north for another 18 mile loop.

One of my woodbadge tickets was to ride the Alpine Loop, which I did two weeks ago. That was my first time all the way around. It's pointless. The climb up Provo Canyon, then to Sundance, Aspen Grove and the Summit is great. The descent down the Sundance side is way fun. But the drop down the AF side is not so fun and the ensuing ride through Cedar Hills, AF, PG, Lindon is even less fun.

Moderating comments, oops

It turns out that there were 25 comments waiting to be moderated here at Utahania. I took a long summer off from many things, including blogging. But the good news is that I got continuing faculty status (BYU equivalent of tenure), taught computer graphics for the first time, published my first paper in computer graphics, took the scouts to camp, the kids on a vacation or two and even went to family woodbadge.

Anyway, at some point in that process, the blog set itself to have comments moderated. I guess that actually sending me email when a comment needed to be moderated was too much? At any rate, I am now caught up.

20 out of 25 were great comments that I wish had been out there in the community. I even agreed with some of them :) . The other 5 were, or appeared to be, unrelated spam.

Sorry about that, I'll stay more on top of that now that I know there's a silent queue of pending comments.

Why I oppose vouchers

As much as it kills me to be on the same side of an issue as the UEA, I am going to have to vote against vouchers. I have two primary reasons.

First, I am a fiscal conservative. While I do support parents' choice in education, I don't think that the government should spend your tax money to help parents choose private school. Similarly, I don't support using your tax money to help parents have a choice, for example, in what kind of car they drive. Just to be clear though, I do think that your tax money should be spent to provide education to all children for free. Public ed has problems. However, I think many of them can be blamed on the UEA (sorry UEA). Tenure in 3 years? That's crazy. Stretch that out to 6 or 7.

Every person I know who supports vouchers and hates their local elementary school (n=2) simply has a bad principal. If it weren't so hard to fire a bad principal, then public ed would be a better place. It's easier to fire a college football coach than it is to fire a principal. What's wrong with that?

Second, voucher proponents have made a big deal out of the following arguement "vouchers aren't bad for public ed because a student who leaves on a voucher leaves behind the money spent to educate that student." Apparently, the legislature found some money in the general fund that can be used to pay for vouchers without taking money out of public ed. If we have the political will to take money out of the general fund and spend it on vouchers, then why don't we take that same money and use it on public ed? The Utah Senators and Reps. that I've met are pretty smart. They have to understand this arguement against vouchers. So why don't they support using that money for public ed but do want to use it for vouchers? That's an easy one: UEA again. Legislators are reluctant to throw more money at public ed because they aren't happy with how it's going to be spent.

Dawn: hope that helps you get through class next time!