A week or so ago, a story on KSL-TV by Richard Piatt took at look at the TV ads on both sides of the voucher issue. I thought it was NOT balanced, shallow, and in several cases just flat wrong.
A few folks wrote blogs about it. You can read one here from Bill Keshlar. He was pretty much on target. I thought the controversy would wind down.
But no! Now, Parents for Choice is repeating Piatt's inaccuracies through a mailer sent to some voters.
So, I went in search of setting the record straight and came across a letter from State Board of Education Chair Kim Burningham to the News Editor at KSL.
I am posting most of it below because I think it deserves your attention. It outlines all the incorrect information and assumptions that Piatt used in his story. It's long, but informational.
I hope that KSL will do something about this, and that after further review, Piatt will issue a retraction. I sure dislike seeing a TV station being purposely used to distort the facts.
Here is the letter:
TO: Con Psarras, KSL News Director
FROM: Kim R. Burningham
DATE: October 21, 2007
SUBJECT: Voucher “Truth Test” Got it Wrong
Because KSL is such a highly respected source for news in Utah community, it is extremely important that the information disseminated by the station is both fair and accurate. Based on the following information, I believe that the “Truth Test” segment that aired on the evening of Wednesday, October 17, 2007, was mistaken on key points, and that labeling the ad by Utahns for Public Schools “FALSE” was done in error. Please find analysis of the report below.
Richard Priatt reported: “During this five-year trial period, the program is an 'experiment.'”
How he got it wrong:
HB 148, while most definitely a risky and costly experiment, does not include a “trial period” clause. It does indicate that an investigative audit will be conducted at the end of five years, but there is no sunset date and no termination or reaction to the study is required. No language exists requiring the legislature to reauthorize the program at any time in the future. It just continues. The fact is that, while the first few years may see some savings for school districts, down the line a voucher program becomes more and more costly as Utahns subsidize tuition for private school students with public tax dollars. This is evident by the official analysis of the Office of Legislative Analyst—the same analysis that Mr. Priatt held up as source material for his misleading commentary.
Richard Piatt reported: “Those opposed to vouchers want to capture that money and apply it toward public education now. That is what Utahns for Public Schools mean when it had the 2006 Teacher of the Year in an ad saying, ‘Private school vouchers take resources away from public schools.’ In a financial sense, that's false… and the $5.5 million dedicated to vouchers---even if it were applied to the education budget---would amount to two-tenths of one percent of the overall budget.”
How he got it wrong:
Utah’s per-pupil spending is the lowest in the nation, as of the 2004-2005 school year. The Legislative Fiscal Analyst has estimated that the voucher program will cost the state $429 million over the next 13 years. The fact is that every dollar spent on voucher schools is a dollar that is not going in to the public classroom. [http://ftp2.census.gov/govs/school/elsec05_sttables.xls, Table 8; Salt Lake Tribune, March 8, 2007.]
The “mitigation monies” outlined in HB 148 are only for the first five years after a student leaves the school. So, while the cost of running a school – paying the teachers, the rent, the support staff, the electricity bill – remains much the same, the budget the school has to do those things will diminish. http://le.utah.gov/~2007/bills/hbillenr/hb0148.htm
Furthermore, while there may be some savings to schools during the first few years of the program, as private school students are added on down the line public school districts will experience a significant drop in funding as the cost of the voucher program balloons from $9 million to over $70 million by 2020. This is because all private school students by year 13 of the program will be receiving state money – whether or not it makes a difference to their family in being able to afford private school tuition. The $429 million estimated by the Legislative Fiscal Analyst as the cost to the state over the next thirteen years far outweighs any estimates of savings it could provide.[Salt Lake Tribune, March 8, 2007]
While $5.5 million may be a small percentage of the overall schools budget, it could still have a big impact – with an average teacher earning $37,006 per year in Utah, $5.5 million could fund 148 new teachers – that’s three additional teachers for every one of Utah’s 40 school districts, with funds left over.
Richard Piatt reported: “In anti-voucher ads those questions are cast as troubling questions: ‘Setting few if any standards for private voucher schools. Like no accreditation…’ That’s false. In fact, school accreditation…[is]spelled out in both voucher bills.”
How he got it wrong:
HB 148 states that schools taking voucher students must “provide, upon request to any person, a statement indicating which, if any, organizations have accredited the private school.” This does not constitute a mandate for accreditation from any organization – merely that the schools disclose whether or not they have achieved accreditation. HB 174 makes no further mandates for accreditation on private schools.
According to the Utah Administrative Code Rule R277-410, the Utah State Board of Education is “not responsible for the accreditation of nonpublic schools, including private, parochial, or other independent schools.” The same rule mandates the accreditation of all public secondary schools, including charter schools, while public or charter middle, junior high, and elementary schools may seek accreditation if they wish.
Further, according to the Utah State Office of Education School Accreditation website: “In the State of Utah, by law all public schools, granting high school credit, are required to be accredited.” The State Board of Education says that “Private and parochial schools that issue high school credit and/or diplomas should be accredited” – again, not constituting a mandate.
Richard Piatt reported: “’Setting few if any standards for private voucher schools. Like …no accountability for our tax dollars…’ That’s false. In fact…accountability… [is]spelled out in both voucher bills. That includes requirements for annual student testing.”
How he got it wrong:
Section 53A-1a-805 of HB 148 says that private schools accepting vouchers “annually assess the achievement of each student by administering: a norm-referenced test scored by an independent party that provides a comparison of the student's performance to other students on a national basis.” The results of that test must be available to parents and to “other persons” upon request, but the school may choose any norm-referenced testing mechanism.
The test chosen by a private school may be any norm-referenced test in any curriculum. It may have absolutely no reference to the achievement required from public school students on, for instance, the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students (U-PASS). U-PASS, enacted in 2000 by the Utah State Legislature to ensure the effectiveness of the tax dollars being used in public schools, is just one of many testing requirements of the 96 percent of Utah students who attend public schools. The results of U-PASS testing are widely available and reported to allow parents to see how their child’s school is doing with the core curriculum approved by the State Board and required of all public schools. On the other hand, schools accepting vouchers have no such requirement for a comprehensive core curriculum, let alone a test that definitively covers such a curriculum. There can be no basis for comparison between public and private schools to determine success if students are not held to the same standards.
Additionally, accountability goes beyond testing - while public school budgets are reported annually and in great detail, private schools accepting vouchers must only account for the voucher payments separately and contract with a certified public accountant to make a report to the State Board every four years.
Richard Piatt reported: “’Setting few if any standards for private voucher schools. Like…no requirement teachers have a credential.’ That’s false. In fact…teacher credentials are spelled out in both voucher bills.”
How he got it wrong:
Section 53A-1a-805 of HB 148 says that private schools accepting vouchers must “employ or contract with teachers who: hold baccalaureate or higher degrees; or have special skills, knowledge, or expertise that qualifies them to provide instruction in the subjects taught.” What subject matters those degrees are held in or what “special skills” constitute making a teacher qualified is left up to each individual school. No license or teaching credential is required – merely that the school makes the qualifications of the teachers it has chosen available for review by parents.
Alternatively, Utah public school teachers are required to hold a State Office of Education issued license, which requires not only an extensive review of a teacher’s qualifications prior to being granted, but also that the teacher commit to ongoing education.
• The USOE offers “alternative routes” to licensure (ARL), which still requires a baccalaureate degree or higher for those wishing to teach in secondary schools and a minimum of 27 semester hours of college credit for those wishing to teach in elementary schools. In order to be granted a license, ARL candidates “complete course work determined by a transcript review, take required content knowledge test (s), teach for a minimum of one year and a maximum of three years in a licensed position, successfully pass evaluations of classroom performance skills by the principal, and, upon program completion, are recommended for licensure by the principal and ARL advisor.”
• There are a variety of methods for obtaining a license by more traditional methods, for those who have participated in a teacher preparation program. In-state teacher program graduates forward their completed file from their higher education institution. Out-of-state graduates must provide, among other requirements, university transcripts, verification of educator experience, and either a license from the state they graduated in or an institutional recommendation from their university.
• Additionally, in order to remain licensed in Utah, teachers must attend and pass additional university courses, go to in-services or conferences, conduct research, or lead students in volunteer activities.
KSL and Richard Piatt - correct the record.