Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The "Sith Lord" eats Oreos

Finally. The Utah voucher fight is over! The 62% of Utahns who voted against taxpayer subsidized vouchers for private schools have spoken. Maybe we can finally put that issue to rest and work on making a difference for the 96% of Utah's kids who attend public schools.

Let it not be said that the campaign was boring. Anything but! Everyone waited to see what the proponents would come up with next. They certainly seemed to employ some bizarre campaign tactics.

And, I, for one, waited with anticipation to see what Patrick Byrne would say next!

He didn't disappoint.

Early in the evening he told a news station that the voucher vote was an "IQ test" for Utah voters as noted by Deseret Spectacle here:

"I think that this is basically a state-wide IQ test, and I'm very interested to see whether Utah passes or fails the IQ test." - Byrne said.

OK, then as it became clear that vouchers were being rejected in EVERY county in the state, Byrne came up with this gem:

"They (Utahns) 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.

So, according to know-it-all Patrick Byrne, CEO of - the non-profit making company - who is under investigation by the SEC - Utahns are...well....stupid.

Not only are Utahns stupid, they don't care about their kids! WHAT?!?!

Oh, and that is not enough. No, Byrne had to impugn the integrity of Gov. Jon Huntsman when he said:

"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." (Reported here in the Tribune.)

Geez. This time Byrne can't say his words were taken out of context, as he did when the NAACP asked him to apologize for saying that minority children who didn't graduate from high school should be "burned" or "thrown away."

I imagine all of Byrne's comments will come under scrutiny in the next state he plans to take his message: South Carolina, as Accountability First reports here.

South Carolinians, beware Patrick Byrne. He thinks you are stupid, you don't care about your kids, and if they are minorities, they should be "burned."

And, a message just for you, Patrick: The "Sith Lord" eats Oreos.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Thoughts before the voucher vote

Soon the issue of taxpayer funded vouchers for private schools will be decided by Utah voters. Most of us would say "not soon enough" after having been bombarded by radio and TV commercials, and having hauled pounds of mail out of our mailboxes, and seen the newspaper ads, etc. etc. etc.

After having written about the media observations of vouchers, and various other aspects of this campaign for several weeks, tonight I am making a few observations without links to this or that.

First is that this whole voucher campaign was not a Utah-driven effort. It was thrust upon Utahns by out of state groups that continue to seek out "small states" that they can "use" to experiment with this Libertarian driven concept. (See accountabilityfirst for details.)

My second observation is that a lot of really good Uthans - teachers, parents, business people, civil rights leaders - recognized that this out of state voucher effort was not in keeping with the values of Utah. So they organized a huge effort to ensure that voters would have a say - yes or no - on the issue.

From that, a host of people and organizations weighed in and the whole issue became one of intense interest and emotion.

Now, my position from the start has been clear. You can tell from the title of my blog.

What has had me riled through this whole debate is that the pro voucher advocates have used "dirty tricks" and intimidation and obfuscation to keep the underlying issue at bay. They've tried to put up the teachers association as some bad entity when all the association really is is - duh - an association of teachers. They even went so low as to steal yard signs and send spam e-mail. Good grief.

The pro voucher campaign was single-handedly funded by Patrick Byrne, a childless bachelor, CEO of a struggling (to say the least) company, and paranoid who thinks the "Sith Lord" is out to get him. What was his stake in this effort? It certainly hasn't been the interest of children.

No, the whole underlying effort is truly about dissolving public education and public schools. It is a philosophical tug of war about how our children should be educated. It's a difference of opinion about the public good and the "free market."

Should we be a state, a nation, a democracy where children gain their opportunities through education? Should we fulfill the vision of Thomas Jefferson, who fought for a public school system open to all that would help teach generations about the values of freedom and democracy so that they could intelligently participate in that democracy and stand up to defend freedom? Should we continue and value our public schools and our teachers in their quest to, despite all bureaucratic obstacles, ensure that every child has a chance?

OR, as the pro voucher folks believe, but won't say, should education - the ability to think critically - be reserved for a few? Should the education of our children be open to the "free market" where those perceived to offer a better product be subsidized by state taxpayers? Should a "free market" compete to teach our children? Teach our children what? We know, and we influence, what our public schools teach. There is no influence like that in a "free market."

Utah voters will answer those questions for themselves on Tuesday.

So, however you chose to vote, please do vote. It is a lesson important to our children.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Salt Lake City Tribune says NO to vouchers

This really is the best written summary of the reasons to vote against Referendum 1 - the private school voucher program. Just please remember to VOTE!


No to Referendum 1: Vouchers would not improve Utah education

Tribune Editorial
Salt Lake Tribune

The Republican legislative leadership would have you believe that the voucher law on Tuesday's ballot is a solution to the problems plaguing education in Utah. It is not. Rather, it is a product of right-wing ideologues far from Utah who would like nothing better than to take education out of the hands of the taxpaying Americans who pay for it and turn it over to private interests.

These adherents to the philosophy of the late economist Milton Friedman have tried for years not just to undermine public schools, but eventually to eliminate them. In Utah, they have found an array of acolytes willing to ignore the will of the people and strong-arm enough of their colleagues to get the nation's first universal voucher program written into law - by a single vote.

But the Legislature's privatizers - led by House Speaker Greg Curtis, House Majority Leader Dave Clark, Senate President John Valentine and Senate Majority Leader Curtis Bramble - underestimated Utahns' desire to control how their tax money is spent, and their commitment to public schools.

Referendum 1 was forced onto Tuesday's ballot by a groundswell of opposition to vouchers by a populace unwilling to compromise their neighborhood schools by allowing tax revenue to be siphoned off to pay private school tuition.

Beyond the radical political and philosophical goals of the voucherites, there are other sound reasons for pounding a stake through the heart of this perennial push on Capitol Hill: the potential of vouchers to rob public schools of funding, and the questionable constitutionality of sending public funds to religion-based private schools.

The Utah and U.S. constitutions rightly forbid using public money to fund instruction in religious doctrine. That is why implementing the law would surely trigger lawsuits that would put taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars in legal bills. Regardless the outcome in court, it can be said with certainty today that the voucher law is an offense to the spirit of separating church from state.

The voucher law would not only create a system of private schools that are not accountable to taxpayers, but deal a devastating blow to public schools. In the 1980s and '90s, when Utah was suffering chronic recession and state revenues were tight, members of the Utah Legislature told underpaid educators in overcrowded, underfunded classrooms, "There's only so much money."

State revenue had to meet all the state's obligations, including public education. The same is true today, and can be applied to the impact of spending finite revenues on vouchers. Whether that money were to come directly from the state's public education fund, or from the general fund, it's all the same pot. Reduce the pot by hundreds of millions of dollars, as vouchers eventually would, and the remainder would not be enough to maintain public schools, let alone improve them. This erosion would not await the end of the voucher law's five-year provision to hold public schools harmless. Nor is there anything to keep the Legislature from further squeezing public schools.

The point is, Utah, with its high birth rate, simply does not have the money to support two separate systems - public and private. As it is, lawmakers have not adequately funded public schools, in bad times or good. Class sizes remain the largest, and per-pupil spending the nation's lowest, while teachers still are woefully underpaid.

Moving down the featured items on the bill of goods being sold to voters by voucher proponents is their comparison of the Utah law to voucher programs in other states, programs they claim have achieved some success. There is no legitimate comparison. No other state funds public education so poorly, and no other state's lawmakers have been foolhardy enough to install a universal voucher program at the expense of their public systems.

Utah's voucher law also fails as an antidote to the expected influx of 145,000 new students, many of them low-income immigrants, in the coming decade. Most poor families cannot afford private school for their children, even with a $3,000 voucher.
The bottom line on vouchers is simply this: Sending tax money to private schools is a bad idea. Vote "AGAINST" Referendum 1.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Vouchers - the real agenda

There have been a lot of theories about why conservatives support private school vouchers, and especially our Utah private school voucher program which would create one of the largest state entitlement, state taxpayer funded programs in the country.

I came across this tonight. From someone who is not from Utah but watching with interest. Hits the nail right on the head.

Copied from trakker with the link here:

"George Will writes about one of today's conservative's biggest issues, educational vouchers and open school choice. These would supposedly give parents, especially low income parents, funds to allow them to enroll their kids in private schools which conservatives assure us are much superior to public schools (because by their definition the private sector always does things better and more efficiently than the government).

"While I believe there are some lower income students who would benefit from such a system, I'm convinced that in the long run all it would do is put an end to public schools, and cut teacher's salaries all over the country in half (need any more reasons to explain why teacher's unions are fighting vouchers?). It would result in just as many bad private schools as there are bad public schools, but because the schools would now be a private sector activity, it would be much harder to solve the problem without massively regulating education, which the conservatives would fight tooth and nail.

"Also, little alarm bells go off in my mind whenever conservatives talk about doing something good for low income children and for improving racial balance, because let's face it, when have you ever heard conservatives really give a damn about the poor and racial minorities? These are not constituencies that conservatives lay awake at night worrying about. They have spent decades trying to convince voters that the poor are poor because they are either lazy or refuse to take responsibility for their actions. And the only time conservatives think about racial equality is when they want to scare white bigots into voting Republican (and let me insert here what a hoot is was to read about racial diversity when writing about a program in Utah, one of the nation's whitest states!).

"Why then are conservatives so intent on school vouchers and school choice? Well, their real objective here is to bust the national teacher's unions and abolish public schools. Conservatives hate the teacher's unions for many reasons, but chief among them is the fact that the unions have been able to negotiate for decent wages for teachers in general...The idea of a guaranteed decent wage and job security is anathema to their view of unfettered, unregulated capitalism.

"Conservatives hate public schools because public schools are subject to public regulation and laws. In theory public schools are supposed to be secular and fact based. While they don't always do this well, abolishing them and replacing them with a hodgepodge of private schools - many of them religious in nature - all competing for the voucher money, and subject to no regulation other then what consumers exert over the marketplace, would result in disaster..."