Sutherland Newsletter October 11, 2007

1.Public School Students Who Need Choice Don’t Have It in Current System

For the 40 percent of minority students not graduating with a diploma, the public school system is not working.  Despite claims that choice already exists in the current system, these students who need it most do not have a choice, based on factors usually dealing with their income or inflexibility within the public school system.


The Sutherland Institute contacted 16 of the state’s 29 public school districts, accounting for 84 percent of Utah’s total student enrollment, and asked them about their “open enrollment” policies as well as their practical experiences in its implementation.  The survey results show that open enrollment and within-district acceptance rates are 81 percent and 92 percent, respectively, for districts that keep such records.


“The most frequently-cited reason for rejecting transfer students was space considerations.  The second most-cited reason was based on past behavior problems.  Two districts even cited special-needs status as a reason for rejecting open enrollment and within-district transfer applications,” said Derek Monson, education policy analyst for Sutherland Institute.  “The responses reveal that public schools are not immune from ‘discrimination’ toward students.”


Though private schools are not required to accept all students who apply, Sutherland’s closeevaluation of private school admission policies indicates that 91 percent of all voucher-eligible schools in Utah are willing and able to accept students with special needs.  In fact, Utah is already using a successful voucher program, Carson Smith Scholarships, to meet the needs of special-education children.


“Contrary to popular myth about exclusivity in Utah’s private schools, not only are they as racially diverse as Utah’s public schools, but now we find that private schools are just as open and flexible in meeting the educational needs of all children and, in several instances, they are more so,” concluded Monson.


2.USU School Voucher Debate Online

The two-hour school voucher debate between Sutherland Institute President Paul T. Mero and Rob Miller, vice chair of the Utah Democratic Party and proprietor of, is now online at  During the debate, which took place at Utah State University on Wednesday, October 10, 2007, Mero focused on the students for which the voucher bill is primarily intended to serve.

“When Governor Huntsman signed this bill into law, with all due respect to your successful children, he was not thinking of them — he was thinking of those struggling, low-income minority students.  We often refer to these students euphemistically as ‘achievement gap’ kids.  These are the children that don’t make it like yours do.”  Mero added, “These students are already the most expensive to educate.  More money invested in their public schools does not seem to help them — their school funding goes up and their graduation rates with a diploma either stay flat or drop further.  These struggling students need more than money; they need new opportunities.”


3.Vouchers Work Where They’ve Been Tried for Those Who Need Them Most

Multiple studies show school vouchers boost the academic achievement of students, especially those in the minority population.  The studies, conducted by sixteen different researchers, found evidence that students who have accepted vouchers in Milwaukee, Charlotte, Dayton, New York City, and Washington, D.C. have achieved higher scores on standardized tests when compared to their peers who remained in public schools.



“Because the results occurred among the targeted group of inner-city, African-American students in these cities, we should be very hopeful that our largest minority student population of Hispanics will receive the most help as well,” said Paul T. Mero, president of Sutherland Institute.


The studies also revealed benefits for the public school systems in the areas where vouchers have been implemented.  For example, the largest gains in math, science, and social studies among public schools occurred in those competing with voucher schools.  Mero attributes this substantial gain to schools being more in tune with and more focused on getting parents involved, in both public and private schools.


“The empirical evidence underscoring the correlation between increased academic achievement and higher parental involvement is overwhelming,” added Mero.  “In passing HB 148, legislators took a giant step toward increasing parental involvement in our education system, which should pay tremendous dividends in academic performance.”


Katia Cook, a Hispanic mother from West Jordan who worked for the Granite School District for three years, said she volunteered at her son’s public school, but was not satisfied by the curriculum, the level of difficulty, and the large class sizes.  “I have since put all three of my kids in private school and have noticed a dramatic improvement in their academic performance, especially when compared to all of the other kids in our neighborhood.  I think, too, that as they’ve seen me sacrifice — going in to debt and taking on extra jobs just for them — this has made them want to do their best.”