UPDATE: No wonder the Sutherland Institute's "research" was short on details. Richard Warnick has pointed us to an informative Trib article about private school affordability. From reading that article, the Sutherland Institute's results aren't just vague, they are intentionally misleading. [Last sentence about Catholic schools deleted in deference to Derek's comment below.]
The Sutherland Institute's credibility is sinking faster than a back yard in Draper. Rather than admit that they're rabidly pro-voucher and that everything they say is intended to advocate for that position, they try to pass themselves off as an "educational" resource that just happens to have done some research that might happen to be of interest on this subject. Frankly, though, if their latest press release is any measure, we question the Sutherland Institute's ability to research its way out of the proverbial paper bag. (Hat tip to KVNU's For the People.)
First, the title: "Average Tuition at Utah’s Private Schools is $4,520"
That characterization itself is b.s. Did the headline writer even read the press release?
Salt Lake City, UT – September 27, 2007 – Independent research conducted by the non-profit Sutherland Institute shows the average tuition among the majority of voucher-eligible private schools in Utah is $4,520. And nearly 64 percent of these private schools are within the range of affordability for low-income families, having tuition below $4,500."Independent" research? Yeah, like all those independent tobacco studies conducted by Philip Morris. The "average" tuition "among the majority" of voucher-eligible private schools is $4,520, the Institute says. It later mentions that it subtracted the six highest-priced schools before it calculated this average. Translation: The alleged "average" tuition "among those school we chose to include" is supposedly $4,520.
"Nearly 64 percent" of "these" private schools (i.e., 64 percent of those left after subtracting another 9 percent from the 73 percent that responded) are "within the range of affordability for low-income families, having tuition below $4,500." “Affordability is a subjective term,” said Sutherland Institute President, Paul T. Mero. “But consider a low-income family that receives the maximum school voucher amount of $3,000 per child. The difference between the average tuition rate and the maximum school voucher is $1,520, or $127 per month. That is less than the price of a car payment.”Right. The poorest families who would qualify for the $3,000-per-child max would hardly notice an extra $127 per month out of their paychecks. We can't decide whether these guys are arrogant or delusional.
Of the 88 voucher-eligible schools contacted, 64 responded.OK, the Institute's figures are based on 72.7 percent of the schools that it contacted. (And, by the way, can we see the survey questions and answers? Hate to sound cynical, but you don't suppose some of the 24 no-shows were on the high end, do you? And that, possibly deducing how the Institute wanted to use its results, they figured they shouldn't hike up the bell curve by answering?)
The responding schools reported annual tuition charges from $1,600 to $52,200. Only six private schools are clearly unaffordable for low-income families the new voucher law is primarily intended to serve. Those six were omitted from Sutherland’s results.Sutherland's website calls this an "adjusted average." Hey, Mom, I got an F in Social Studies, but I have omitted it from my results. So now I have an adjusted B average! P.S. If vouchers are intended primarily to serve low-income families, why aren't they limited to low-income families?
“In addition to being affordable, private schools in Utah are also convenient and accessible. These are important factors for the families that vouchers are primarily intended to serve,” said Mero. “The current supply of private schools in Utah is within close proximity to 85 percent of Utah’s school-age population.”Is this a research report or a travel brochure? Knowing Mero's definition of "affordability," I shudder to think how he defines "close proximity."
From its research conducted in August 2007, Sutherland Institute found that there are private schools in 17 of Utah’s 29 counties.Which counties? And as the word "private" is not preceded by "voucher-eligible," does this figure include all private schools? How was the list compiled? Hate to pester you about research, but...
Most private, public and charter schools are concentrated in the Wasatch corridor and the St. George area. In the most recent school year, these areas accounted for 85 percent of school-age children in Utah – which means the majority of school-age children have access to private schools that meet the qualifications to accept vouchers.
Are there private schools in St. George? We assume so, but they don't even bother to say it. How do they define "Wasatch corridor"? How do they define "access"? Within a few blocks of a bus route or Trax station (or however far Sutherland Institute personnel let their kids travel unattended to school)? Less than a 5-mile drive? 40 miles? And how many of these "voucher-eligible" schools will in fact accept vouchers? Some have already said they will not.
We would actually like to know this information, so we surfed over to the Institute's web site, hoping to find the details. No luck, other than this one-page brochure that jacks up the affordability quotient even more by including tuitions of up to $5,000 per year, assuming that everyone will get private scholarships and that poor people won't notice a $166 (or $332 for two kids) hit in their monthly income.
Give us a break. When a "research institute" spews out vague, slanted junk like this instead of detailed, at least semi-objective analysis, it does not do anyone any good. Information about private school tuition in Utah could be useful; let's hope someone like the Trib or the News gives us some.