This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Something is wrong with conservatives' free market argument for privatization of Utah's public schools as promoted by several Republican legislators and their ally, the corporate lobbyist American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
If a free market were truly free, by definition our society would need to completely remove education from federal and state control, including eliminating funding by taxes.
Vouchers could not be used. This, too, pools society's money for redistribution. No, for pure competition, a family would need to use its own direct tax savings to pay for the education of each child. Conservatives may respond, "Federal and state governments still need to collect taxes, but then distribute the money for private schools of choice."
This definition is just a "half free" market, still socialist in concept, and it certainly does not meet the conservative goal of decreasing federal expenditures.
Private schools currently exist outside the realm of taxation. Some offer excellent academic achievement, but for a cost of up to $20,000 yearly per student. I doubt many of Utah's large families could pay for this. Also, private schools need to cover real costs plus, say, a 10 percent profit to investors. They must operate with the ultimate goal of achieving profitability, while secondly, offering education.
If new or expanded private schools operate like the country's private prisons, they will have investors and be traded on a stock exchange. Privatization of U.S. prisons has proven to be so-so, with a 2 percent cost savings. And, difficult prisoners are sent back to public confinement.
Utah paid $6,356 to educate each public student in 2009 (http://www.utahfoundation.org/img/pdfs/rr700.pdf). We have no proof this type of money could buy a better or worse private education, but we do know it would have to cover shareholder profitability.
ALEC, which is promoting privatization of schools, also creates bill copy for legislators in order to sell federal public lands to oil and mining corporations. It offers text to suppress unwanted votes. It supports year after year increased military spending, which, by the way, has enticed people to resign their government jobs in order to sell their services back at three times their employment cost.
The federal government is a cash cow to many, including corporations funding ALEC. Private organizations are diligently finding ways to cash in on federal dollars, and to create a self-serving, anti-free-market favorability for their institutions through bill language handed to willing politicians.
ALEC's devious ways do not compute to this business owner. ALEC is bamboozling Utah state legislators into thinking school privatization is the right thing to do. But is it?
Our nation cannot afford a free market education system. Education of poor children, minority children, and children from large families will suffer. Children left in some form of public education will be neglected. They will fall through the cracks. In the long term our country will be devastated.
A well-educated society poor to rich, boys and girls, all children is the best investment our country could ever make.
Instead of privatization, why don't we look at a successful public school system and employ its standards? Say, Maryland, the best in the country. Yes, it spends more per pupil than Utah; no cost-plus-profit, just cost. If we want results, we need to swallow the hard pill of the means for better education.
No ALEC-type organization should ever be able to place its own special interests over those of American families. No child should be left behind.
Kelli Lundgren is chair of Represent Me Utah!, a nonpartisan group promoting democracy in Utah. She lives in Cottonwood Heights.