Expert Comment: Utah Voters Repeal Voucher Program

Published November 7, 2007

(CHICAGO, Illinois – November 7, 2007) On November 6, the nation’s first statewide universal voucher program was defeated in Utah when voters repealed, through referendum, the law that created it last February. More than 60 percent voted for repeal.

In the statements below, experts contacted by The Heartland Institute explain the vote had more to do with teacher unions fighting for their very survival than parents’ rejection of school choice. You may quote directly from this statement or contact the experts for further comment.

“At the Utah Education Association’s annual rally last week, most of the discussion was devoted to how to defeat the state’s universal voucher program on November 6. President Kim Burningham rallied the crowd by telling them voucher supporters could call in well-funded reinforcements from all over the country with a single phone call, knowing it would incense them into action. “Unfortunately, what she was actually describing was the network behind all the people speaking against vouchers from that very stage–not voucher advocates, who raised only chump change for every dollar of the $3 million raised and spent by the National Education Association and its affiliates before the vote.

“Fully 96 percent of the money to defeat the Utah voucher program came from union sources, while pro-voucher sources worked hard to raise 84 percent of their funds from in-state people. Utah teachers voluntarily contributed only 6 percent of the money to defeat the program–so they’re not really against this. That means the other 94 percent of the union contributions were from mandatory dues money. “So this was not a matter of Utah voters saying they didn’t want a voucher program. This was the rest of the nation ganging up on Utah. The teachers unions are fighting for their very survival, so it would be unrealistic to expect them to change their dishonest tactics at this stage. Until voters become better informed and more involved in protecting their own liberties, this is the sort of thing we can expect to see happening–but given the overwhelming popularity of other voucher programs nationwide, it’s clear the tide is turning, and that day will soon arrive.”

Karla Dial
Managing Editor – School Reform News
[email protected]

“The Alliance for School Choice is disappointed that Utah’s voucher program did not prevail in yesterday’s referendum. The Alliance regrets that thousands of disadvantaged children will be denied increased educational options because the voucher program, which was passed earlier this year by the Utah legislature and signed into law by Governor Huntsman, will not be implemented.

“The Alliance honors the valiant efforts of the thousands of parents who volunteered their time to support this referendum. These parents knew that ballot referenda, on any subject, rarely pass. But despite this, they worked mightily, and we salute them.

“The school choice movement, like any movement for reform, experiences the jubilation of successes and the disappointment of defeats. We have seen disadvantaged parents rise up and demand options for their children, and win. More than 100,000 children are the beneficiaries of a better education because of private school choice in America–more than ever before. And, despite the tens of millions of dollars spent by opponents, the clear majority of the American public supports school choice.

“A setback in one state is just that: a setback in one state. The movement to empower parents to choose a better education for their disadvantaged children remains vital, committed to its mission, and determined to achieve successes.

“Today, school choice supporters across the country are rightly disappointed. But, in our disappointment, we are emboldened to fight even harder to help the children in America who are too often forgotten.”

Andrew Campanella
Director of Communications and Marketing
Alliance for School Choice

“This defeat is in no way a roadblock for the school choice movement in Utah or the U.S. Utah’s very successful statewide school choice program for special-needs students still remains in effect. Across the country, there are more families than ever before choosing to exercise their right to educational choice. Parents everywhere are standing up and supporting the concept of school choice because they want the best educational experience for their children. “School choice is a state issue. Unfortunately, the fight in Utah was not. Statewide school choice organizations teamed up with parents and did a great job at getting out the information about the program and how a ‘yes’ vote on Referendum 1 would make a real difference in the education of thousands of children. Their opponent, the national teachers union, spent at least one dollar from every teacher in the country to defeat this effort in Utah . That’s not exactly what I would call a fair fight.”

Andrew LeFevre
Executive Director
REACH Foundation
[email protected]

For additional research and commentary on school reform, go to The Heartland Institute’s Web site at, click on the “PolicyBot” button on the home page, and choose “Education” from the list of topics.

For further information about The Heartland Institute, please contact Harriette Johnson, media relations manager, at 312/377-4000, or email [email protected].