Vouchers are dead in Utah, for the moment.
Voters decisively rejected the will of the Utah Legislature and governor Tuesday, rejecting what would have been the nation’s most comprehensive education voucher program in a referendum blowout.
“Tonight, with the eyes of the nation upon us, Utah has rejected this flawed voucher law,” said state School Board Chairman Kim Burningham. “We believe this sends a clear message. It sends a message that Utahns believe in, and support, public schools.”
More than 60 percent of voters were rejecting vouchers, with about 95 percent of the precincts reporting, according to unofficial results. The referendum failed in every county, including the conservative bastion of Utah County.
In the face of colossal failure, voucher supporters desperately searched for a scapegoat on which to hang it — anything other than the manifold problems of vouchers:
Voucher supporter Overstock.com chief executive Patrick Byrne – who bankrolled the voucher effort – called the referendum a “statewide IQ test” that Utahns failed.
“They don’t care enough about their kids. They care an awful lot about this system, this bureaucracy, but they don’t care enough about their kids to think outside the box,” Byrne said.
Funny, from my conversations with people in Utah, I got the idea they opposed vouchers specifically because the voucher plan would damage schools, and that would in turn hurt the kids.
I suppose it depends on what the definition of “care about kids” is.
Utah, the most conservative state in the nation, has strong teacher organizations, but nothing like a union that leads strikes and is not itself populated with conservative Republicans. Also favorable to vouchers, the Utah legislature is heavily Republican, with voucher supporters in most leadership positions. Millionaire Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr., also pushed for the vouchers, stacking the state’s political powers in favor of vouchers. Such facts cannot get in the way of the desperation to deny them voucher supporters show.
Doug Holmes, a key voucher advocate and contributor, said, “We started hugely in the hole and it’s always been the case. The unions have done this in four different states, where they take the strategy of confusion to the people.”
But Holmes said, “You don’t run away from something because the odds are stacked against you.”
Odds stacked against vouchers? It’s not the voters who are confused, Mr. Holmes.
Voucher supporters blame even their friends and supporters, and offer headline writers the chance to use an avalanche of clichés with a promise that vouchers will rise again, perhaps in the old Confederacy:
Both sides, at one point, embraced the governor, who Byrne blasted Tuesday for his lukewarm backing.
“When he asked for my support [for governor] he told me he is going to be the voucher governor. Not only was it his No. 1 priority, it was what he was going to be all about,” Byrne said. “He did, I think, a very tepid job, and then when the polls came out on the referendum, he was pretty much missing in action.”
Byrne said the referendum defeat may have killed vouchers in Utah, but “There are other freedom oriented groups in other states – African-Americans in South Carolina are interested in it.”
Got that, South Carolina? Vampire vouchers are headed your way. Stock up on garlic, wooden stakes and silver bullets.