With 90% of precincts reporting, the Utah voucher referendum has been defeated by a 3 to 2 margin. It’s a sad thing that most Utah families won’t be enjoying any new educational choices in the near future, but the defeat of the voucher referendum will not slow the march of educational freedom. School choice programs have proliferated in the last decade, growing in both size and number, and they have done so despite earlier referendum setbacks in the more populous states of Michigan and California.
The reason educational freedom will continue to spread is that the pressures that drive its growth are continuing to build. Our district-based, 19th century school system is simply not living up to the ideals of public education or the expectations of the American people. Our schools are supposed to promote social cohesion; they foment culture wars instead. They are supposed to impart knowledge and skills, but we trail the industrialized world in academic performance by the end of high school. And given our limited resources, we want our schools to make every dollar count, but public schooling has undergone a staggering decline in cost-effectiveness over the past several generations. Our high-school seniors score no higher than those of three or four decades ago, but we spend twice as much per pupil in real dollars.
As these problems continue to build, Americans will continue to look for alternatives, and the more carefully they look, the more they will be drawn to educational freedom.