What should our representatives do?

November 24, 2008

John Florez, writing in Utah’s Deseret News:

It would be even more refreshing to have elected leaders openly declare conflicts of interest without having to be caught or hounded into doing so. Even better would be if they quickly recused themselves where conflicts exist — just because it’s the right thing to do.

It is encouraging to see much of the talk before the state pre-legislative -session talk has included ethics reform and enforcement. That government officials know the public is watching them closely is a gentle and persistent reminder that ethics isn’t going away once the election ended.

Keeping the people’s trust is vital, and that means keeping one’s word. It has been amazing to see the way the administration and Legislature can work together in rapid fashion when they want to accomplish things that a majority of the voters did not want, i.e. soccer stadiums, foreign nuclear waste, vouchers, school district splits, to name a few. If they can do it so quickly for the things we don’t want, they most certainly can work quickly together for the things we do want.

McCain offers to sacrifice American education

September 6, 2008

John McCain’s campaign suggests the remaining weeks of the presidential campaign should concentrate on personalities rather than issues.  Why?

McCain’s issues sound like the failed policies of the George Bush administration, so it should be obvious why he doesn’t want to talk about them.

We have a higher duty, especially on the issues of education.  We need to live up to the challenge of young Dalton Sherman (who gave a more substantial speech than Sarah Palin, I think:  “‘Do you believe in me?’  5th grader Dalton Sherman inspires Dallas teachers.”)

In his acceptance speech Thursday night, McCain promised to continue the War on Education, hurling bolts — okay, aiming sparks — at much of the education establishment, but promising nothing that might actually improve education and help out great kids like Dalton Sherman.

Here I’ve taken the text of McCain’s speech as delivered (from the interactive site at The New York Times) and offer commentary.  For McCain’s sake, and because it reveals the threat to education, I’ve left in the applause indicators.

McCain said:

Education — education is the civil rights issue of this century.

Equal access to public education has been gained, but what is the value of access to a failing school? We need…

(APPLAUSE) We need to shake up failed school bureaucracies with competition, empower parents with choice.

Competition has never been demonstrated to improve education.  In state after state where it’s been tried, we’ve found corruption tends to squander the education dollars, and the education dollars themselves are diluted and diverted from struggling public schools.  If John McCain promised to help New Orleans by diverting money from the Army Corps of Engineers to “competition in the levee building business,” people would scoff.  If he promised to divert money from the Pentagon to offer “competition” in the national security business, he’d be tarred and feathered by his fellow veterans.

We need to make schools work, period.  Taking money away from struggling schools won’t help, and taking money from successful schools would be unjust, and a sin — in addition to failing to help.  40 years of malign neglect of education in inner cities and minority areas should not be the excuse to dismantle America’s education system which remains the envy of the rest of the world despite all its problems, chiefly because it offers access to all regardless of income, birth status, color or location.

Millions of people fight to get to the U.S. because of the opportunities offered by education here.  McCain offers to snuff out that beacon of liberty.  If his position differs from George W. Bush’s, I don’t know where. If his position differs from that of the anti-U.S. government secessionists and dominionists, it’s difficult to tell how.

Let’s remove barriers to qualified instructors, attract and reward good teachers, and help bad teachers find another line of work.

The No Child Left Behind Act prompted states to develop brand new, impenetrable bureacracies to grant teaching certificates to people who do not go through state-approved schools of education.  These bureacracies often are unaccountable to elected officials, or to appointed officials.  They were quickly thrown together to regulate a brand new industry of training programs designed to meet the technical requirements of state enabling legislation, and often deaf to the needs and requirements of local schools.

The chief barriers to qualified instructors are low pay, entrenched administration, and a slew of paperwork designed to “expose” teachers in their work rather than aid students in education, which all too often keep qualified teachers from getting teaching done, and discourage qualified people from other professions from getting into the business.  Who could afford to get into telephone soliciting if every phone call had to be documented by hand, with evaluations that take longer than the phone calls?  That’s what teachers in “failing” schools face daily, and it’s a chief factor in the exodus of highly qualified teachers from public schools over the last six years (a trend that may be accelerating).

This proposal would make sense if there were a backlog of qualified and highly-effective teachers trying to get into teaching — but quite the opposite, we have a shortage of teachers nationwide (check out the debates in Utah last year on their poorly-planned voucher program, which sounds a lot like what McCain is proposing).

Has McCain had any serious experience public schools in the last 22 years?  (I’m wondering here; I don’t know.)

When a public school fails to meet its obligations to students, parent — when it fails to meet its obligations to students, parents deserve a choice in the education of their children. And I intend to give it to them.
Some may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private one. Many will choose a charter school. But they will have the choice, and their children will have that opportunity.

Of course, with McCain taking money from the public schools, it will be difficult to find a “better” public school, ultimately.  Here in Texas we’ve experimented for more than a decade with a statewide plan to shuffle money from “rich” school districts to poorer districts, under a plan generally and cleverly called “the Robin Hood plan.”  We still have good and excellent schools in districts across the state, but an increasing number of the designated-rich districts have smashed into tax rate ceilings, and are cutting programs from school curricula, and extra-curricular activities.

Charter schools in Texas are numerous, but in trouble.  Few of them, if any, have been able to create the extra capital investment required to build good school buildings, or especially to provide things like good laboratory classrooms for science classes, auditoriums with well-equipped stages for drama, literature, and general sessions of the entire school, or adequate facilities for physical education and recreation — let alone extracurricular athletics.

Charter schools and private schools often short science education.  A coalition of private schools sued the University of California system to require the universities to accept inferior science education, rather than provide good science education.  (A judge tossed the suit out; the coalition is appealing the decision.) Worse, this coalition includes some of the nation’s best private, religious schools.  When a group claimed as the best plead for acceptance of mediocrity, it’s time to re-examine whether resort to that group is prudent.  When the “best” private schools plead to lower the standards in science, it’s time to beef up the public schools instead.

Worse, many charter schools in Texas and elsewhere are riddled with incompetence, and a few riddled with corruption.  The Dallas Morning News this morning carries a story about a group running two charter schools, one in the Dallas area and one in the Houston area, both in trouble for failing to measure up to any standards of accountability, in testing, in other achievement, in teaching, or in financial accounting.  Economists note that free markets mean waste in some areas (ugly shoes don’t sell — the shoe maker will stop making ugly shoes, but those already made cannot be recalled).  Administration appears to be one area of enormous waste in “school choice.”

Several American urban districts have tried a variety of private corporations to operate schools on a contract basis.  If there is a successful experiment, it has yet to be revealed.  These experiments crashed in San Francisco, Dallas, Philadelphia and Baltimore, from sea to shining sea. Continued hammering at the foundations of good education, calling it “competition” or “peeing in the soup,” isn’t going to produce the results that American students, and parents, and employers, deserve.

Choice between a failing public school and a corrupt or inept charter school, is not a choice.  Why not invest the money where we know it works, in reducing class size and improving resources?  That costs money, but there is no cheap solution to excellence.

Senator Obama wants our schools to answer to unions and entrenched bureaucrats. I want schools to answer to parents and students.
And when I’m president, they will.
My fellow Americans, when I’m president, we’re going to embark on the most ambitious national project in decades.

Here we see how out of touch with America John McCain really is.  Does he think that any school system in the nation “answers to unions and entrenched bureaucrats?”  Seriously?  Does he realize the “entrenched bureaucrats” are anti-union?

Seriously.  Think about this.  Texas is the nation’s second largest state.  There is no teacher’s union here worth the name.  State law forbids using strike as a tool for bargaining or negotiation.  Teachers here generally are opposed to unions anyway (don’t ask me to explain — most of them voted for George Bush, before he showed his stripes — but there is no pro-union bias among Texas teachers).  Teachers unions are either much reduced in power in those cities where they used to be able to muster strikes, like Detroit or New York City, or they have agreed to cooperate with the anti-union proposals that offer any hope of improving education.  Read that again:  I’m saying unions have agreed to give up power to help education.

So what is the real problem?  The bureaucracy choking schools today is not the fault of teachers.  Significantly, it’s required by the No Child Left Behind Act.  But even that is not the chief problem in schools, and those problems are not from teachers.

Teachers did not move auto manufacturing out of Detroit.  GM did that.  Fighting the teachers union won’t bring back Detroit’s schools.  Charter schools aren’t going to do it, either.  Teachers didn’t drown New Orleans.  The failure of the levees after Hurricane Katrina did that.  Busting the unions in New Orleans has done nothing to improve education, as all of New Orleans struggles, and as former Big Easy residents resist going back so long as the schools are a mess.  Our schools in Texas have taken on thousands of students from New Orleans and other areas hammered by storms — public schools, not charter schools.  In many cases, parents are choosing public schools John McCain wants to push kids out of.  Go figure.

Hard economic times hammer schools.  Teachers didn’t create the housing bubble, and it’s certain that teachers were not the ones who failed to regulate the mortgage brokers adequately.  We can’t improve education if we don’t have the necessary clues about what the problems really are.

Public education is an essential pillar of American republican democracy.  Public education is the chief driver of our economy. McCain appears wholly unaware of the conditions in America’s schools, and he appears unwilling to push for excellence.  Instead, to drowning schools, McCain promises to through a bucket of water, and maybe an anchor to keep them in place.  He’s urging a road to mediocre schools.  Mediocrity to promote political conservatism, or just to get elected, is a sin.

McCain’s running mate brutalized the public library in her term as mayor of Wassilla.  If she has a better record on education since becoming governor, I’d like to hear about it.

Teachers, did you listen to McCain’s speech?  How are you going to vote?

Misplaced comments on vouchers

November 11, 2007

Crooks and Liars highlighted the sore-loser comments of the pro-voucher bunch in Utah — and a bunch of people commented there. I’m sure they were planning to leave comments here, or at UtahAmicus, or Utah Teacher, or one of the other blogs that covered the issue like a blanket, but somehow they got sidetracked to Crooks and Liars. The comments are sometimes enlightening.

Eh. We probably ought to be reading C&L more anyway.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Notes from Evil Bender.

Roundup of Utah-based comments on Utah voucher defeat

November 8, 2007

LaVarr Webb’s UtahPolicy.com features a roundup of comments from blogs on the Utah election, and the referendum defeat of vouchers:

Blog Watch

Lots of reaction to the voucher referendum outcome: See BoardBuzz, Steve Urquhart, SLCSpin, The Utah Amicus, Dynamic Range, The Senate Site, Paul Rolly, Out of Context, Reach Upward, COL Takashi, Jeremy’s Jeremiad, Davis County Watch, Salt Blog, and Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub.

Utah is a small state, blessed with television, radio and newspaper outlets that perform way beyond what the population should expect.  Webb’s site tends to summarize most of the important political stuff every day.

It is exactly that type of information that led to the defeat of the voucher plan, I think.  More later, maybe.  Go take a look at Webb’s link to a CATO Institute commentary; voucher advocates are not giving up in any way.

Utah voters spike vampire school vouchers

November 7, 2007

Vouchers are dead in Utah, for the moment.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports “Vouchers go down in flames“:

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.

Oh, and don’t forget the Oreo cookies. Get lots of milk, too.

The whole world should be watching Utah

November 6, 2007

This is election day in much of the U.S. In Utah, voters have a referendum on vouchers to take money from public schools to give to students to attend private schools. This is the first state-wide test of vouchers anywhere.

William Hogarth's election series,

  • The Polling, from William Hogarth’s series, The Election, oil on canvas, 1754; from The Tate Gallery, on loan from Sir John Sloane’s Museum, London.

I think vouchers will be voted down, but either way, I wish there were more, serious national coverage of the story in Utah. Public education has refused to back down from scurrilous and often false claims against the schools, and parents and educators have fought a gallant, fact-filled campaign against Utah’s voucher proposal. Utah voters are traditionally among the better-educated, better-informed, and better-voting people. Known as a conservative stronghold, Utah will probably vote to put this voucher program in the trash can.

The rest of the nation could benefit from knowing more about the reasons this proposal fails, if it does — or why it succeeds, if lightning strikes the way Richard Eyre prays it will.

Marchers protesting the Vietnam War in 1968 used to chant “The whole world is watching.” If only it were true today.

Vote today!

Whatever your views, go to the polls if there is an election in your town, and vote. Your vote will count, and it angers and frustrates the big money interests who hope you won’t vote, so their campaign contributions and, perhaps, outright bribes, will have more clout. Go vote.

The County Election, George Caleb Bingham, 1851

Politicians can lie, but they can’t hide

November 5, 2007

A decision by the Supreme Court of the State of Washington last month had wags and pundits claiming that it is okay for politicians to lie, at least in the state of Washington.

On October 4 the Washington Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a law that banned publication of “a false statement of material fact about a candidate for public office” in advertisements or other campaign materials, if the statement was made with “actual malice,” or with “reckless disregard to its truth or falsity,” according to a report in the New York Times.

“The notion that the government, rather than the people, may be the final arbiter fo truth in political debate is fundamentally at odds with the First Amendment,” Justice James M. Johnson wrote for four the justices in the majority. A dissenting justice, Barbara A. Madsen, wrote that “the majority’s decision is an invitation to lie with impunity.”

Justice Madsen added that the decision would help turn “political campaigns into contests of the best stratagems of lies and deceit, to the end that honest discourse and honest candidates are lost in the maelstrom.”

Utah’s voters now are engaged in a great debate that tests those views. Can voters discern the truth from a fog of claims and counterclaims about school vouchers?

Polls show vouchers losing. What does that mean?

Ironically, perhaps, in the Washington case, the candidate who got the claim wrong, according to the court’s decision, also lost the race:

Mr. Sheldon said Ms. Rickert had violated a state law that made it unlawful to publish “a false statement of material fact about a candidate for public office” in advertisements and campaign materials if the statement was made with “actual malice,” meaning in the knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard to its truth or falsity.

The commission ruled against Ms. Rickert and fined her $1,000. It found that Mr. Sheldon had not voted to close the facility and that it was, in any event, a juvenile detention center rather than one for the developmentally challenged.

Justice Johnson said the law under which the commission had acted was “a censorship scheme.”

“It naïvely assumes,” Justice Johnson wrote, “that the government is capable of correctly and consistently negotiating the thin line between fact and opinion in political speech.”

Mr. Sheldon had other ways to combat the brochure, Justice Johnson added. Mr. Sheldon and his supporters could have “responded to Ms. Rickert’s false statements with the truth.” And Mr. Sheldon remained free to file a libel suit, though he would have to prove not only falsity and actual malice but also that the statement had harmed his reputation.

In a brief concurring opinion, Chief Justice Gerry L. Alexander said the flaw in the law was that it penalized false “nondefamatory speech,” meaning statements that do not injure reputation. But he said the government should be free to “penalize defamatory political speech.”

The voters figured it out.


Opinions in Rickert v. Washington:


Concise case against Utah voucher proposal

October 31, 2007

This site has about the most nearly complete, concise case against the Utah school voucher proposal I have found. Is there any chance the voters in Utah still need to be swayed to reason on this issue? Send them to this site, after you have them view the real story about Oreos.

Utah voucher referendum: Slapping the hand in the cookie jar

October 30, 2007

A Utah school teacher made his own video, in his home it appears, with a non-professional camera and crew — and it eviscerates the points Richard Eyre was trying to make in his slick, professionally-produced, commercial version.

The Truth about Cookies Utah Vouchers:

Tip of the old scrub brush to a reader and commenter named Brack.

Update, November  7, 2007:

Utah voters soundly rejected vouchers in the election November 6.  Here’s my version of the story.

Lot of damage, not much benefit: The truth about Utah vouchers

October 22, 2007

Editorials in two of Utah’s second-tier daily newspapers spell out exactly why the Utah voucher proposal submitted to voters is a bad one. The Provo Daily Herald urges voters to study the voucher proposal, and then vote for it. The Logan Herald-Journal discusses a key problem for Cache Valley parents and educators, in aging buildings that are often older than the grandparents of the students, but which will cost a fortune to replace.

The Utah voucher plan is only half-vampire (blood sucking, that is; or money sucking), leaving with the public schools some of the money allocated for students who choose to leave — at least for five years. In that one regard, the Utah proposal stands a head above other voucher plans offered in the U.S.

That is not enough to make it a good proposal, however. Why?

Here are “givens” for this article, the basic set of facts we have to work from.

1. Crowding is a key problem for Utah schools. Statewide, public schools average 30 pupils per class. That’s above national norms, and twice the concentration of students that studies show make for the most effective classrooms (15 students). (A new study from the Utah Taxpayers Association, a usually credible source, shows Utah’s public school student population growing from today’s almost 550,000, to about 750,000 by 2022 — requiring more than $6 billion in new construction costs.)

2. Partly because of large families in Utah, per pupil spending ranks near the lowest in the U.S. The usual figure used in the voucher discussions in Utah is $7,500 per student per year, but I can find no source that corroborates that figure. The actual number is probably closer to $5,000 per student, but may be lower. Legislative analysts based their scrutiny of the proposal on the $7,500 figure, and for discussion purposes, that’s good enough. It won’t make any difference in the outcome. (A reader in comments on another post says the $7,500 figure comes from the Park City School District, the state’s richest — it may be high by as much as 40% for the state. Can that citation be accurate?)

3. Utah’s schools perform well above where they should be expected to perform, on the basis of number of teachers, teacher pay, and student populations. Despite crowding and shortage of money, three Utah middle schools were named among the nation’s 129 best last month. Utah students score respectably on nationally-normed tests. A high percentage of Utah students go to college. Utah parents deserve a great deal of the credit for this performance boost. Utah has for years had higher than average educational attainment. With several outstanding colleges and universities in a small state, many Utah parents have a degree or two, and they buy books, and that achievement and the drive to get education rub off on their children.

4. These problems should get worse without drastic action. Utah family size may decrease slightly, but immigration from other states adds to pupil population increases. Utah’s economy is not so outstanding that it can easily absorb significantly higher taxes to pay for schools. (See the Utah Taxpayers Association study, again.)

Those are the givens. Advocates of the voucher plan, notably people like Richard Eyre, who made a fortune investing in Kentucky Fried Chicken, and has since invested much of his time in dabblings in public policy, argue several benefits to the voucher plan:

A. Not much damage to public schools by taking money away. In fact, they argue, during the first five years, for each student who leaves a public school with a voucher, the school will keep at least $4,000 (this figure would apply only to the richest districts, if the baseline number comes from Park City as my commenter suggested). This $4,000 would be spread among the other 29 students remaining, effectively, leaving just under $140 additional money per student in the average classroom. (There are problems with this calculation, of course).

B. Public school classroom size will shrink, to the benefit of the remaining kids.

C. Public school spending can hold steady when schools fire the teachers who lose students (I assume this is a misstatement from the Eyres’ video — that instead, some savings might result from dismissal of low-performing teachers in schools where a significant portion of students leave).

D. Magically, competition will create better education.

Below the fold, I’ll tell you why the benefits will not obtain, and point out some of the dangers of pushing the whole education system over a cliff that are inherent in this scheme.

Read the rest of this entry »

Vouchers as Oreos: Crumbs for the kids

October 21, 2007

Here’s the infamous “Oreo® cookie” ad by the pro-voucher Richard and Linda Eyre, in the 30-second version:

I have a few questions for the Eyres and their Modified Vampire Voucher program:

1. Private schools are few and far between in Utah — where is a kid supposed to find a school?

2. National statistics tracked by the Department of Education show Utah at the bottom of the per-student spending list. Were Utah spending $7,500/year/student, Utah would rank comfortably near the top. Where did you get your figures for spending in Utah, and why do they differ from the national statistics?

3. Are you saying that, if vouchers cut student loads at public schools, no teachers or classrooms would be cut? I don’t see that guarantee in the law, and I’m wondering why you’re claiming something like that will occur.

4. How many kids need to leave the average public school classroom before there is a significant increase in money left over for the rest of the kids, under your formula? By “significant,” I mean at least 10% increases, or with your statistics, $750/pupil. My quick, in-my-head calculations show that, if only rich kids leave, we need to get 5 rich students , with the lowest vouchers, out of that 30-student class in order to get a significant increase in spending. That’s 17% of the students.

If 17% of the students left Utah’s public schools, how much would your program cost? How many private schools would need to be created to accommodate that percentage?

5. You say Utah spends about $7,000/student, and you suggest that Utah should be spending nearly $10,000/student. In order to get a $3,000/student increase in that classroom, you’d need to get 10 rich students to leave, or 33%. How soon do you think you can get a third of the students to leave Utah’s public schools?

6. You say teachers should lose their jobs if students leave public schools for private schools. Why? Studies show that generally it is the best students who leave public schools for private schools. If their teachers are punished . . . well, explain just what it is you really advocate?

7. When I published the research studies at the U.S. Department of Education, we published studies showing that reduction in classroom size helped student achievement — a measurable amount once classroom size got down to 18 students, and significantly once classroom size got down to 15 students per class. By your figures, we’d need to get half of all students to leave Utah’s public schools to get down to 15 kids per class — without firing any of the bad teachers. How long will it take to get that reduction? How much will it cost?

8. If we can’t get a third of all students to leave the public schools, we’re still stuck with a massive shortfall in funding. What’s your backup plan, since getting a third of all students to leave is a stupid idea with zero chance of success? When you’re done hammering at the foundations of public education, what then?

9. Do the good people at Nabisco approve of your abuse of their cookies?

Eyre’s program may look neat as Oreos, but it leaves only crumbs for the kids. Taking money out for vouchers does almost nothing to contribute to solutions for Utah’s education problems.

Below the fold: The longer version of the ad.

Read the rest of this entry »

Pro voucher forces panic in Utah

October 20, 2007

With the nation’s first state-wide voucher on the ballot in Utah this November, and with the polls showing a large majority ready to vote the idea down, voucher supporters push every button they can find, hoping one of them is the real “panic” button. Panic button, from iWantOneofThose

But, legislators recruiting lobbyists into a referendum? A new blog dedicated to the Utah referendum, Accountability, carries the story with links to local Utah news media.

. . . I know there’s a whole industry built up now to protect the will of lawmakers from their constituents.

But I didn’t think that was the prevailing wisdom here. We hadn’t fallen victim to the political industry like folks have back East.

Then I read articles like Paul Rolly’s column in this morning’s Trib and I wonder if we’re not so far away from succumbing to it, too.

“Lawmakers stack the deck on vouchers” is the headline, and the first sentence tells the whole story. “About 20 lobbyists were summoned to a meeting Monday by legislative leaders who urged them to roll up their sleeves and help save the voucher law.”

Isn’t a ballot referendum supposed to be the voice of the people? In fact, isn’t it the last chance the people have to have their say on a law, after the legislature has had its way? That’s what the Constitution provides. So what’s wrong with informing every Utahn man and woman of voting age what the referendum says, answer any questions they have, then let them vote on whether to keep this law or discard it?

The story as related at Accountability would be a road map for a corruption investigation into the Republican leaders of the Utah legislature for a state attorney general out to defend the electoral process from graft and the legislative process from corruption. Does Utah have such an attorney general? Utah’s relatively clean and open political processes, artificially bipartisan by LDS Church decree in the 19th century, appears to be going the way of all political flesh.

Cash is provided from interest groups far outside Utah, groups that have never considered the effects of a voucher bill on a kid in San Juan County, Utah, who has a 50-mile, one-way bus ride just to get to the nearest public school.

Later stories at Accountability detail the cash flow from outside, and the folly out-of-state and out-of-their-mind interests create in local elections. (I have not found any identification for the author of that blog — does anyone know who it is?)

Maybe it’s time we took a more historic view of this fight, and labeled it for what it is: As Chris Mooney has documented the Republican War on Science, this Utah skirmish is part of the larger War on Education; whether it’s an exclusively Republican declaration of war is not yet clear. It doesn’t bode well for peace, progress and prosperity that the Republican leaders of the Utah legislature are the ones commanding the gun batteries shooting at Utah’s schools.

Utah voucher wars: When very desperate, bribe

October 13, 2007

Salt Lake Tribune political reporter Paul Rolly shows just how desperate are the voucher supporters in Utah, with polls showing the voucher referendum on the November ballot will crush the pro-voucher legislation:  They offered bribes.

Yes, bribes are illegal.  You know that, I know that.  Tell it to the voucher advocates:

With polls showing overwhelming numbers of voters poised to repeal the voucher law that was passed by the Legislature last winter, voucher advocates got so desperate Thursday they sent an e-mail from the FreeCapitalist Project offering money for pro-voucher votes in next month’s referendum election.
    But then someone must have let them know it usually is considered illegal to buy votes, so they sent a second e-mail several hours later retracting everything they said in the first e-mail.
    The original e-mail said Parents for Choice in Education is conducting a “Friends and Family” campaign in which “advocates” are encouraged to sign up friends and relatives who commit to voting in favor of the voucher law in next month’s referendum election.
    If the advocate provides his or her field manager with 25 names committed to voting for vouchers and they actually vote, the advocate gets $10 per person, or $250 for the 25 names, the e-mail said. Plus, the advocate will get $10 for each voter they get beyond the 25.
    The contacts for the program were listed as Brandon Dupuis and Jim Speth, PCE field managers for northern and southern Utah, respectively.
    So, as the old saying goes (a bit amended): If you can’t dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with a bribe.
    But then came the Oops!
    “Retraction,”  the second e-mail boomed.
    “We apologize for the previous e-mail . . . . It was simply incorrect and misrepresents the Free Capitalist Projects’ grass-roots efforts. Neither Parents for Choice in Education nor the Free Capitalist Project will ever provide incentives that appear to pay people to vote. The earlier e-mail was sent by determined and sincere individuals who are working diligently, but the Free Capitalist Project and Parents for Choice in Education did not approve, authorize or see the e-mail in advance.”

I’ll wager it wasn’t the illegality that stopped them.  Somebody probably sat down with a calculator and suggested how much it might cost them, at $10.00/vote, if people took them up on the offer.  And for the $10.00, there’s no guarantee that any of the votes would be switches — no guarantee that it would sway any votes their way.

Public education entrenched in Utah

September 25, 2007

From the Utah History Encyclopedia on-line, we get a solid if brief description of the highlights of public education in Utah.

Here are the roots of the deep opposition to vouchers in Utah.  Several times Utah communities started their own private schools, only to turn them over to public entities, especially after 1890.  Utahns regard public schools as their own.  Voucher advocates seem unable to notice that an assault on the public schools is an assault on Utah communities, for that reason.

Plus, as The Deseret Morning News reported Sunday, Utah’s schools often achieve excellence.  Utah parents don’t like the idea of taking money away from successful schools their kids attend to fund untested, unregulated private schools.

Utah voucher fight reality

September 24, 2007

Sunday’s Salt Lake Tribune has a fine article analyzing the electoral issues of the referendum on vouchers Utah voters have this November, “Doubt has clout to kill vouchers.”

Reality of elections: It’s more than issues. Voter turnout, and voter habits and biases, affect the outcome. The good news is that the habits and biases in this case work against vouchers.

Hoover Institute fellow Terry Moe’s evaluation of the general feeling of voters toward vouchers is golden, and should be framed by anyone working the issue — about a dozen paragraphs into the article.

Read the rest of this entry »

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