Columnist's note: In three weeks, Utahns will vote on one of the most debated, polarizing issues in state history: private school tax vouchers. Realizing I had no strong feelings on the subject, I set out to explore the pros and cons so I could cast a vote that might qualify as educated. In today's column, pro-voucher advocate Richard Eyre has the floor; in Friday's column, anti-voucher proponent Pat Rusk gets equal time. In Sunday's column, I will offer my own take and how I intend to vote on Nov. 6, for what that's worth.

Richard Eyre is nothing if not a family man.

He and his wife, Linda, have not only raised nine children, they've helped raise the rest of ours. When they're not lecturing around the world about parenting they're writing books about it or talking to Oprah. When Ronald Reagan wanted directors for a national conference on families, he called Salt Lake City and asked for the Eyres. Richard also served on Reagan's national advisory panel for financing public education.

The Eyres' book, "Teaching Your Children Values," was the first parenting book to be a No. 1 best-seller since Dr. Spock in the 1950s. Their Web site,, has more than 100,000 subscribers worldwide.

A stronger advocate for raising kids right you could not find.

And Richard Eyre is all for private school vouchers.

Not because he has any stake in private schools. He doesn't own one, doesn't have stock in one and doesn't have a history with one. Not one of the nine Eyre kids went to a private school.

But because of the increased power vouchers will give to parents.

If vouchers become law, "The vast majority of parents will just leave their kids where they are, in the public schools, just like Linda and I did with all of our kids," says Eyre. "But when a child needs something that may not be available in the public school, vouchers give parents another option.

"Wealthy parents already have the private option," he continues. "But poorer families do not. With a $3,000 voucher, a lower-income parent becomes a customer. Even thinking about the possibility, and having the option, will make parents more involved."

To Eyre, vouchers present a rare win-win-win-win-win situation. Public schools, private schools, parents, kids, teachers — everybody wins. It's why he's asked to address the teachers' convention later this month. Presented objectively, he believes public school teachers will see the light, too.

"Look," says Eyre, "we already have a voucher program in higher education. We have Pell grants and all sorts of other kinds of government aid. And those can go to a private or a public institution. There is no distinction made, and colleges compete vigorously side by side. Consequently, our higher education system is the envy of the world. That's not true in our public schools."

Vouchers, says Eyre, would make public schools less crowded and more fiscally fit.

"We spend over $7,000 tax dollars per pupil per year in our public school system, the lowest of any state in the country. And every time a family makes a decision to use a voucher to move a child into a private school, the class size goes down and the amount of money for each of the students left goes up.

"I like to explain it with Oreo cookies: say you have 30 little stacks of Oreos — seven cookies in

each stack — representing a typical Utah class of 30 students and the $7,000 we spend on each of them each year. Now let's say that the fairly wealthy parents of one of those students decides to take their $500 voucher (half a cookie, the size of the smallest voucher) and send that child to a private school. The class size drops to 29 and the 6 1/2 cookies that the departing student left behind are still in that classroom, to spend on more books or materials, or on more pay for the teacher. Now let's say that another family, a poorer one, decides to use its $3,000 voucher (three cookies, the size of the largest voucher) to send its child to a private school. The public school class size drops to 28 and four cookies ($4,000) stay behind.

"Think about that. Two less stacks of cookies — two less kids in the classroom — but 10 1/2 cookies to put on the 28 stacks that are left — $10,500 extra dollars to spend on the kids that stay in that public school.

"Now the teachers' union, whose job is to keep the status quo and protect the jobs of even the worst teachers, will try to create confusion about where that leftover money will go, but the simple fact is that the public schools will have more money per pupil every time a family uses a voucher.

"The NEA (National Education Association) is sending the UEA (Utah Education Association) $3 million to try to create a smokescreen of doubts, saying the voucher bill is flawed and full of loopholes. In fact, it is a great bill, agreed to by our Senate, our House and our governor.

"I believe, passionately, that parents are the stewards over their children and they know, far better than a bureaucratic school system or a teachers' union, what is best for each of their kids," Eyre concludes. "If parents and teachers get the facts, vouchers will pass on Nov. 6."

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.