Sunday, February 25, 2007

TV Review: 1/2 Hour News Hour is 1/2 Hour Too Long

One of the things I try to do with both TV shows and political statements is actually taking the time to find out what is going on. For example, I did read, several times, HB 148 and still found it a horrible bill with major problems which will actually hurt children in Utah.

Tonight I put this ethic to work by watching Fox News Channel's 1/2 Hour News Hour. I can honestly say the last time I was this disgusted was when I saw the Zapruder film. It was absolutely disgusting, not funny, insulting, and stupid.

In case you didn't know, the show is supposedly the conservative response to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. It is produced by Joel Surnow, one of the men behind 24, which I have been a huge fan of, despite it's potentially conservative political philosophy. That's for another post.

The whole format of the show reminds me of the current two-host format of Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" in that the actors (they are not hosts) try to sell the stories too hard and it is just not funny.

Another constant annoyance was the laugh track. I firmly believe I heard the same "yeah!" six times during the broadcast.

My main problem with the show, though, is that it is unnecessary. TDS and TCR are not conservative by any means, but I don't think they are all that liberal either. Watching Jon Stewart interview Tom Vilsack, Joe Biden, or John Edwards, I feel he is just as tough on them as on Bill Kristol, Dan Barlett, or Bill O'Reilly. Colbert is just as tough on the Republican Representatives on "Better Know a District" as the Democrats. After all, it was Barney Frank who was mad after his segment, and Nancy Pelosi who was actively discouraging the caucus from appearing.

In summary, the 1/2 Hour News Hour sucks and I will not waste my time watching this crap. Not while TDS and Colbert are nos. 1 and 2 on my Tivo's season pass. Thank goodness I still had Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job on my Now Playing List tonight.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Daily Kos GOP Cattle Call—Anti-Mormon Bias?

As has been noted before, I don’t really care for the Presidential campaign of former Governor Romney. However, Saturday night’s “GOP Cattle Call 2008” on dailykos.com left me disturbed as to why seemingly intelligent people think individuals must abandon personal faith to obtain political office.

Unfortunately, unless he sheds his Mormonism along with his gay-loving, pro-choice social views, I can't see him going anywhere.


Why does he have to abandon Mormonism to get the Republican nomination? I was surprised to see a GOP cattle call on dailykos at all, let alone on the front page. However, I feel this post illustrates one of two things, perhaps both: Democratic political operatives are real novices at understanding Republican political feeling; and/or this poster has no idea about the beliefs or practices of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Trapperjohn is not really different from the hundreds of other ignorant, willfully or not, individuals who want to write off Romney simply because of his faith. I am perfectly fine with writing him off because of his flip-flop, flim-flam political principles, but not just because of his religion.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

How Biased Is The Davis County Clipper?

During the Ashdown campaign, I worked with many news organizations, attempting to get the campaign’s message out. Many of them at least gave us the time of day. One in particular was unwilling to give us more than a few short stories; on the other hand, they ran two three-part interviews with Sen. Hatch in 2006, without even bothering to contact us. This despite the facts that Pete was born and raised in Bountiful, that we ran an ad in their paper, that we wrote letters-to-the-editor pointing out their bias, among other less obvious attempts to get their attention.

Nothing. No chance to respond to the frivolous claims in Hatch’s interviews, which have all been disproved. I would link to the articles, if the Clipper’s archives actually worked. However, you can enter in Orrin and Ashdown in their search engine and compare the number of articles each got. Most of Orrin’s were almost verbatim press releases, and some of Pete’s were also our releases.

Imagine my shock when I saw Clipper editor-in-chief Rolf Koecher attempt to claim how unbiased his paper has been, especially compared with the big, bad national media, or even the two Utah dailies. In doing so, though, Mr. Koecher makes it clear that his paper is biased. He bases his claim on this AP story detailing the testimony of Vice President Cheney’s former top press assistant before the Scooter Libby trial. He makes several points as to why that story is biased. I will try to correct him of those errors.

First, he claims that the whole Libby/Wilson scandal is misguided because “because Plame was not fully a covert officer.” This is false. If Mr. Koecher had actually bothered to read Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s press conference announcing the indictment of Mr. Libby, he would have found this quote at the start of the event in October 2005 (emphasis mine):

Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer. In July 2003, the fact that Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer was classified. Not only was it classified, but it was not widely known outside the intelligence community.

Valerie Wilson's friends, neighbors, college classmates had no idea she had another life.

The fact that she was a CIA officer was not well- known, for her protection or for the benefit of all us. It's important that a CIA officer's identity be protected, that it be protected not just for the officer, but for the nation's security.

Valerie Wilson's cover was blown in July 2003.

Points 2-6 are repetitions of the “everyone else is doing it” defense, and sounding very similar to a six-year-old who got caught eating paste. He claims that it was not wrong for the Vice President’s office to try to blame the CIA and its director, George Tenet, for the Wilson-Niger-State of the Union mess. I would agree that it is common practice for politicians to create a fall guy in case something goes wrong. Nonetheless, I personally find the practice disgusting, and this particular instance is particularly revolting. Mr. Koecher seems to gloss over the implications of Ms. Martin’s testimony: that the Vice President of the United States (or at least his Chief of Staff) worked to deflect the responsibility for faulty intelligence away from themselves and onto the CIA, which, according to some reports (the best one being this Frontline expose) was actually trying to put caveats into the public case for war. Mr. Koecher believes we should be satisfied with politicians destroying the hard work of dedicated (but flawed) public agencies and servants merely to save themselves some public scrutiny.

He points out that the VP’s office specifically chose to go on Meet the Press because they found it a friendlier venue. I don’t think this is out of the ordinary, but it does illustrate the cowardice of the VP’s office, being unwilling to answer tough questions from other organizations.

Fourth, everybody in Washington leaks and we shouldn’t get too upset about this, according to Koecher. As I noted above, this story is about the criminal perjury and obstruction of justice trial of the Vice President of the United States’ Chief of Staff. It was begun, and may continue, as an investigation into how a CI Agent’s classified cover was blown, in retribution against someone trying to disprove a case for war. There are few accusations greater than these, and they deserve our attention.

Fifth, the Clipper editor misses the point that Mr. Novak’s op-ed blew the classified cover of a CI agent! This wasn’t a defense of education policy, but an attack on Mr. Wilson by outing his wife. The VP’s office had the authority to know that Ms. Wilson was an agent, and was able to confirm that if Mr. Novak, or anyone else, asked. They had the responsibility to keep that information classified; they apparently failed.

Mr. Koecher’s final point, that bad news should be dumped on Fridays when no one reads/watches the news, was popularized by a West Wing episode. Let’s be thankful that our government values our judgment enough to intentionally hold vital information from us for fear we may actually pay attention.

The summation of the editorial is that we should not be so hard on the Clipper because they aren’t biased. As I have noted, Mr. Koecher is biased; he has already made up his mind about the Wilson/Libby case. He does this in spite of obvious factual and logical errors; even though he “understand[s] that [his] duty is first and foremost to provide accurate information for our readers,” he gives inaccurate information in his column.

Mr. Koecher needs to realize that he is not the vanguard of quality media in the USA, he is in the backwater. While I value the Clipper as a news source, I do so because it is the only news source for South Davis County. They have a monopoly on the news, currently; I hope that will change with the emergence of more bloggers in Davis County, and perhaps other news media. Until then, we are stuck with a paper that is biased, challenged by their lack of ethics, professionalism, design, and quality staff.

I do not claim that the other levels of media are without bias; that is obviously false. This is true in Utah, where three news stations chose to carry Hatch’s fundraiser with President Bush without providing the Ashdown campaign with any chance to respond to the half-hour free commercial. This is one example of conservative bias; I am sure there are liberal biases also. My point is that before pointing out other people’s biases, we should recognize them in ourselves. I make clear my bias on the top of my page. The Clipper should do so or work to become less politically by asking for both sides of an issue, instead of publishing just the elected official’s political position. It is fear of offending their news source which prevents the Clipper from challenging the opinion's of elected officials, but fear is no excuse for unprofessional and unethical media behavior.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Will Utah Media Cover Every Presidential Candidate’s Visit?

Today, many Utah media outlets have reported about Gov. Romney’s imminent visit to Salt Lake City. They have also discussed yesterday’s incident at the religious broadcasters convention in Florida. Both of these are newsworthy events, and I commend the media for combining both events in a single, larger story.

I have also been pleasantly impressed with much of the local media’s coverage of presidential announcements. They have covered almost all of the major party candidate announcements. However, I remain worried that when/if other candidates visit Utah, they will not receive the same amount of local coverage. This goes for all candidates from both parties; I hope John McCain gets the same coverage as Bill Richardson, Mitt Romney, Dennis Kucinich, Sam Brownback, or others. I know I will be watching; I hope others join me.

KSTU: 'Smooth Talker' Romney To Seek Utah Support

KSL: Bridging the Gap Between Different Faiths

KUTV: Mitt Romney Headed Back to Utah…for Money

Trailer Prejudice: Simpsons Movie



Last night was the first funny Simpsons episode this season. I am guessing that most of the humor was due to Eric Idle's involvement/mere presence. The prevailing assumption, which I subscribed to until last night, is that this season's episodes are sub par because the writers are focused on the movie. However, last night's trailer, posted above, is not promising.

This leaves me thinking the trailer's producers have never actually watched the show. This and the previous trailer have not even reached the level of the TV promos, which usually (not always) give an effective tease. I feel like they are overselling the plot, which, according to the trailer, does not look that great. I remain excited for the film and will probably see it, but I hope that these previews are merely deceiving us and that they in no way resemble the actual film. If I was the Fox marketing department, I would stick with the original short trailer. KISS, piffy & succinct, "Simplify, Simplify," whatever anecdote you want to use, that's my advertising philosophy.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

DC Travel, Romney Review, etc

It has been nearly 10 days since my last post, and I feel badly about that. Last week went by so quickly, I barely had time to breathe, let alone post. So, today I have a bit of time, and I hope to have more time tomorrow to do more posts on Presidents’ Day, the bias in the Davis County Clipper, and other issues.

First, an explanation: I went to a job fair in DC last week; it took nearly a full day to get from SLC airport, through JFK airport in NYC, and then finally getting on several trains to get to the hotel. I had a good time, and may be moving to get a new job, either in DC, Nevada, or other places. I can only say that I count my blessings that things were not worse at JFK and that I have returned home safely.

I am now watching Mitt Romney’s interview on This Week today. I realized again why I do not like Mitt Romney as a politician and would be very concerned if he became President of the United States. This interview reminded me that he is no different from any other Utah Mormon Republican politician who tries to use his religion politically, trying to have it both ways: benefit from the “values image” of the faith, without wanting to defend his faith for fear of political damage. He also carries the personality of a typical national politician (this group includes all the Presidential candidates, all the Congressional leaders including Harry Reid) who make their positions based on political considerations instead on what is right, what is proven, or what is best for the country. That is why I am not supporting him for President. I don’t believe Romney has the political courage to stand up for his true convictions. That may be his undoing, or his key to success.

Does that mean he should be discriminated against because of his religion? No. Does that mean he could not win the Presidency? I think it has been proven that my power to affect the political scene is minimal. However, I feel compelled to state that he is the wrong choice for America. I still have not made up my mind as to the right choice, but it is becoming clearer (and earlier than I thought) who are the wrong ones.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Live Blogging the HB 148 Senate Floor Debate and Vote

2:00 PM—Arrive, but banished to the overflow room.

2:08 PM—What an unexpected surprise! US Rep. Bishop gives a speech on earmarks, blaming Democrats for all the ills in the world. However, seeing him in a bad sweater reminds me why I don’t vote for him or trust him in general.

2:21 PM—Begin debate; Sen. Bramble notes that there are several amendments. Surprising.

2:24 PM—Sen. Griener wants to amend to require background checks for teachers; also concerned about “one school district in Washington County” (i.e. the Hildale schools) that could take advantage of the vouchers.

2:26 PM—Amendment fails on voice vote; when roll call starts, Bramble gets up and states from code that private schools “may” require background checks already. Roll call fails.

2:29 PM—Sen. Jones speaks, gets numbers from fiscal analyst saying the costs of educating voucher students from k-12 would be $327 million; Bramble thinks that amount is a wonderful amount of money. My prediction: in less than 5 years, sponsors will fight to move voucher funding away from the general fund and take it from Uniform School Fund. They’ll say the budget is tight and we need to put all education spending in one fund.

2:33 PM—Sen. McCoy asks whether students could move into the state and qualify for a voucher; Bramble says yes, great, wonderful.

2:35 PM—McCoy amendment tries to get voucher $ back if child comes back to public school. Of course it fails.

2:38 PM—Sen. Bell does not appreciate the “disingenuous attitude of the advocates against this bill” and this bill tries to “buy off the public education establishment.” Asks for “modest voucher program.” Rep. Allen must be either laughing or crying. “A myth to say that this will be exploited…After a few years, we’ll know that vouchers works.” How we will know that, they really have no idea.

2:43 PM—Sen. Davis is on his A game; makes it clear this is not about the children, but about giving taxpayer dollars and giving it to private industry. Just an amazing speech about how we fund this instead of full dental and vision for Medicaid, how some of these private ventures will fail and will cost taxpayers, will take a chance.

2:47 PM—Sen. Niederhauser claims this will bring more $ into the public education system. How? Both Bell and Niederhauser state they wouldn’t want mitigation $ if they were drafting it. Another prediction: Sponsors will repeal mitigation $ in 2 years.

2:49 PM—Sen. Mayne finally makes Bramble admit there are no attendance (day/time) requirements for the schools, private schools cannot discriminate against any applicant…

2:51 PM—Pres. Valentine notes that Sen. Buttars’ statements have no point.

2:52 PM—Mayne gets Bramble to admit that private schools can teach any manner of sexual positions and ideas.

2:57 PM—Mayne and Bramble get into it about how the bill has been railroaded through the Senate without any opportunity for real study.

2:59 PM—Mayne brings up a good point (which Bramble really misses) that there are no requirements for private schools to make building provisions consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or similar state laws.

3:01 PM—Mayne amendment to streamline administrative review procedures. It fails also.

3:05 PM—Overflow room starts to really fill up after Sen. Romero’s motion to circle fails. A Committee meeting is scheduled in overflow room now; they are always late, but it makes me wonder when they will turn off the TV and tell us to leave.

3:07 PM—Now we have to move. Into next door room; it’s getting ready for a committee meeting, but a Senate committee.

3:11 PM—We get in the room just in time for the suspension of rules to start voting.

3:12 PM—My Senator, Dan Eastman, votes yea, even though he stated he wanted a small test program during the town hall meeting earlier this year.

3:14 PM—Sen. McCoy expresses “solidarity” with Sen. Stephenson’s anger at suspension of the rules for the Divine Strake resolution.

3:15 PM—Sen. Stephenson votes yea, will make majority; argues this is an appropriate use of suspension. Again using the false and disingenuous argument that because the nation’s schools are failing, we should automatically conclude that Utah’s schools are failing. It is apparently the responsibility of the legislature to fulfill the dreams of Milton Friedman, and not the needs of their constituents.

3:21 PM—Valentine closes vote; recites same old arguments: helps schools, no $ for religion, blah, blah.

3:24 PM—Passed 19-10. We will live to regret this day.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Live Blogging Senate Ed Committee Hearing HB 148

2:40 PM—Arrive, room not nearly as full as during House Ed Com Hearing.

2:55 PM—In response to Sen. Stephenson’s questions about how the program will be awarded by lottery, Urquhart isuses his first condescendingly arrogant remark, saying: “What other ways could we award it? Good looks?”

3:04 PM—Stephenson asserts the fastest growing school districts should be supporting this bill. Pained laughter from some, especially Granite EA reps.

3:09 PM—Sen. Jones challenges Urquhart to support the hypothesis that class sizes will be reduced by HB 148’s impact.

3:10 PM—Sen. Bramble softballed Urquhart with question about reducing class sizes should be the primary goal of public education.

3:15 PM--3:42 PM—Public Comment; I stood in line and was able to contribute some of the thoughts I have recently published here. Some comments were valid, some were very off topic, including one parent of a Carson Smith Scholar who didn’t really make much of argument for a new voucher program, in my opinion. Though there were a few left to speak on the topic, Sen. Dayton cut off public comment; in my opinion, I think she saw more people were ready to speak against it this time.

3:43 PM—Bramble moves to pass. Jones, Romero speak against.

3:47 PM—Stephenson: “Freedom works every time it is tried.” Just not for pregnant women. It has also worked so well in Iraq.

3:51 PM—Vote 7-2 favorably out of committee. Only Jones and Romero voted nay.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Utah Policy Mitt Daily: Options are Available

I am conflicted about Utah Policy Daily’s Mitt Romney Watch. On the one hand, I realized long ago that UPD has a clear monopoly on the market of political information websites, and the fact that no other site exists to match it is a measure of its quality. I also understand I that if I am so concerned about bias in the coverage, I am perfectly free to either find political information on my own or make my own portal to complete with UPD. While other cities (Denver, for example) has created similar portals for news clippings and information based on variety of viewpoints, I would find beginning such an operation beyond my meager resources.

On the other hand, I find UPD’s coverage of Mitt Romney incredibly annoying. It is biased; there is no other way to say it. They cover the Romney campaign to the exclusion of every other presidential candidate, regardless of party. The fact that UPD’s influence has leeched into other local media sources, such as this weekend’s Tribune article on the Romney campaign, to believe that they have to cover the Romney campaign to the exclusion of other candidates is disturbing. While polls have indicated an early (our primary is a year out people!) lead for Romney among Utah voters, I believe most Utah politicos (the primary readership of UPD) would like information on other political candidates. I also believe the Romney supporters would somewhat care about what other candidates are doing, so they can mount responses.

That leaves us with a few options.

  • Stop reading UPD, perhaps boycotting until it makes serious changes to remove bias.
  • Start our own political information portal.
  • Start searching for our own political information on the web.
  • UPD should cover the actions of more potential presidential candidates.

UPD should stop covering news about potential presidential candidates unless it specifically relates to operations IN Utah or about the Utah presidential primary, with the exception of locally-produced articles in Utah news sources. This means ending the Mitt Romney Watch, and ending blogwatch coverage of non-Utah Romney blogging.

I would personally hope for the final option. It does put the onus on UPD producers to make serious changes, but I believe it also lessens the workload on them, as opposed to the fourth one, which would drastically increase it. The second and third options put the onus on me and like-minded readers (as few there may be) to replace it or its purpose. The first seems like a last resort, I hope it does not come to that level of disgust.

Today’s note on UPD was disturbing, and it crystallized my longstanding apprehension about the direction of UPD’s coverage. However, readers must realize that they have options, obviously not limited to the ones listed above, but limited as long we submit quietly to its bias.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

The esteemed representative from Parents for Choice deigned to comment on this blog.

The esteemed representative from Parents for Choice deigned to comment on this blog. Here is my response.

Steve, your attempt to dismiss my criticisms, if it was that, was incompetent and/or arrogant, typical of how you have framed this debate. First of all, you ignored all the statistical evidence I presented that vouchers have not been proven to work. Second, you ignored the accountability issues within your own bill. Third, you ignore that I do not disagree that any lawsuit may have trouble getting by on its merits, but you again ignore that a lawsuit in and of itself costs a lot of money. Finally, you ignore the fiscal flaws in your bill's appropriation for only $100k for your program's administration.

As to your constituent's approval, I challenge you to produce a poll on that issue, and not the push polls PCE used to bully your colleagues in the House. I would suggest that even in St. George, the majority do not stand in favor of vouchers as you have proposed them. Ask them: "Do you favor or oppose the legislature allowing parents to take taxpayer dollars to send their children to private schools?" Don't ask them do they favor choice, because they have that; don't ask them if they believe parents are the best decision-makers on their children's education, because they usually are. Furthermore, don't ask them whether the legislature should take money from public education to fund a voucher program, because I know that is not what you have proposed. You could ask them if they favor the legislature taking money from fixing roads in St. George, or maintenance of Snow Canyon, or providing full vision and dental for Medicaid recipients, or even a tax cut, to fund a taxpayer-supported voucher program. That is the choice you have made, and you will have to live with the consequences.

Friday, February 2, 2007

A Storm Hit This Week; No One Was Spared

Two weeks ago, on the KUED program Utah Now, KSL TV reporter Richard Piatt was asked about the generally happy and nice mood at the Capitol during the opening week of the Utah Legislature. He responded with an old adage: it was the warm before the storm.
Well, this week the storm hit, and very few of our most important institutions, rights, and people escaped unscathed. I was at the Capitol this morning for the HB 148 vote, trying to reason with my legislator about the problems with the bill. It appears that others tried as well through other means, but were blocked in their attempts. The “Representative” from my district, Paul Neuenschwander, was one of those 38 legislators who put personal gain and/or political survival above the public good. I will not, in this post at least, give some of arguments that Neuenschwander used for the bill, but suffice it to say they were disgusting. My fear is that when the campaign finance reports come out, we will see who really had the principles to vote for this bill, and who were bought. It obviously will happen after the session, but it will happen. I was very disappointed in Neuenschwander, but I was also disappointed in Rep. Last. He voted against the bill in committee, apparently without actually reading the bill or taking the time to ask the sponsor questions in an open format. A sudden and sad change of something came this morning; perhaps it was his heart, his wallet/campaign coffers, or mind. I am biased, but I found the arguments for the bill bland rhetoric, devoid of all but one study quote (Rep. Last’s flimsy statement). The arguments against it were rhetorical, but were also all backed up by evidence: statistics on Utah’s educational achievements despite abysmal funding; the unproven assumptions contained within voucher programs as they have been implemented in other areas; the amount of money being spent on this bill in the election and during the session in advocacy.

This week we saw a big storm of (mostly, though not entirely) Republican political terrorism, in the words of Utah PTA leader Carmen Snow. Whether it was vouchers, politicizing the school board elections, outlawing abortion, killing booster seat laws, the preferred drug list emasculation, RSL stadium blowback against SL County, deputizing police to be immigration agents, or many others, this week was a blizzard.

Next week will probably be worse, but I suspect things will clear out for me, and our state, in the end.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Want to buy a legislator? Urq was only $3k last year



It is one of the more shameful aspects of our political system, that government officials can be literally boughton the local, state, and national level. There is no better example this year then that of Steve Urquhart. He has whored (and I use that term meaningfully) himself out to Parents for Choice in Education. My frustration with the whole debate on HB 148 that he is completely unwilling to accept any amendment, accept that any opposing arguments have merit, etc. On Tuesday, during questioning by Representative Kory Holdaway in the Education Committee, Urquhart dismissed his colleague's legitimate concerns as "silly." Similar rhetoric was uttered on tonight's KSL newscast.
I am grateful, though, that some legislators cannot be bought, no matter what the amount. These legislators made the choice, early on in their careers, that their votes and their positions were not for sale. Unfortunately, it appears that Urquhart, Curtis, Greg Hughes, and others have not yet made that decision and are willing to sacrifice their values on the altar of political expediency and personal enrichment.

No on HB 148, No to Vouchers: Conclusion

Legislators must stand above special interests and make decisions based on research and proven methods. Personal stories of the successes of private schools are compelling, but they do not represent the results of peer-reviewed studies, which again are not conclusive. I ask the Legislature drop this bill, drop this concept, and adopt stronger public education standards, higher public education funding, and create greater opportunities for school choice without putting tax dollars into private education.

No on HB 148, No to Vouchers: The Wholesale Purchase of the Legislation by Purchase of the Legislators

Parents for Choice in Education spent around a half of a million dollars in campaign contributions during the 2006 election cycle. It is unknown how much money has been spent so far by issue advocacy groups on push polls and other questionable statistics in order to bully legislators into voting for such legislation.

No on HB 148, No to Vouchers: Unrealistic Finances

The Bill specifically appropriates $100,000 in ongoing funds to the State School Board to administer the program. This amount seems unrealistic in the light that such a staff member to administer the program would cost more than that amount to pay, equip, and benefit. According the Utah State Office of Education’s FY 2008 Issue Brief - PED - USOE Staffing Statewide Programs and Functions (http://www.le.state.ut.us/interim/2007/pdf/00000369.pdf), the Legislative Fiscal Analyst recommended $112,000 for the Carson Smith Tuition Tax Credit Program, with just 26 eligible schools, just 137 receiving a scholarship in 2005-06 (http://www.rules.utah.gov/publicat/bulletin/2006/20060601/28736.htm), and one staff member to oversee the whole program. If all 81 private schools currently in operation in Utah applied, and all 13,836 students applied for vouchers, $100,000 seems like an unrealistic amount to fund such an operation. In addition to the lack of student achievement accountability noted above, this creates a dangerous precedent.

No on HB 148, No to Vouchers: Constitutional Issues

Article X, Section 1. [Free nonsectarian schools.] The Legislature shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of the state's education systems including: (a) a public education system, which shall be open to all children of the state; and (b) a higher education system. Both systems shall be free from sectarian control.

It is almost certain that the program will be challenged in court, regardless of the merit of any such claims upon the above Utah Constitutional section or others. This bill makes no funding for legal defense, forcing it to be paid out of the general fund.

No on 148, No to Vouchers: Accountability

The Bill’s major accountability problems lie in the sponsor’s unwillingness to allow:

  • Curriculum standards, so extreme religious or political viewpoints may be freely disseminated. The bill makes no exemptions as to what a school may teach, including pro-racism, pro-polygamy,
  • Rigorous testing standards, allowing only “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.” This leaves the state and districts unable to make strict comparisons between the achievement of publicly- and privately-educated pupils. Another example of how proponents do not wish to allow a definite comparison between public and private education.
  • Attendance standards for school days and time; one grade could be completed in a month, week, or even hours under this model.
  • Regular audits to be released to the public or disciplinary actions in the face of financial impropriety.

No on HB 148, No to Vouchers: An Unproven Risky Scheme

I am rolling out what I hope will be a blogswarm about this issue, today and probably tomorrow. Here is the first of several parts.

An Unproven, Risky Scheme

Most analyses of other voucher programs, and private education in general, have made conclusions that are at best, inconclusive.

  • The best example of this was the July 2006 Department of Education National Assessment of Educational Progress’ study which included the major section entitled “Cautions in Interpretations.” The inherent differences in schools prevented the study’s authors from coming to any decisive conclusions. (http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard//pubs/studies/2006461.asp) Subsequent analyses of that study have found similarly unsettled results when they did attempt to apply different models. (http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/pepg/research.htm)
  • One report issued by the General Accounting Office in August of 2001 reviewed Cleveland and Milwaukee's voucher programs. It found that "the contracted evaluations of voucher students' academic achievement in Cleveland and Milwaukee found little or no difference in voucher and public school students' performance..." but warned that "none of the findings can be considered definitive..." because of methodological differences in different studies. They did warn that funding for evaluations was dangerously low, noting: "For example, Wisconsin has not funded voucher student academic achievement evaluations since 1995, thereby losing data on program performance during the years when the program had grown the most." (http://www.gao.gov/docdblite/summary.php?rptno=GAO-01-914&accno=A01676)
  • HB 148 continues this trend by the sponsor’s unwillingness to fund achievement evaluations at all and avoid auditing until 2014.
  • The sponsor has not included any major incentives to target this program to the very few failing schools in Utah, or areas underserved by existing private infrastructure (rural areas, high density urban areas).
  • Numerous groups representing various segments of Utah society oppose this bill, for example: the Utah State School Board, Utah Education Association, the Utah Parent Teachers Association, the Utah School Employees Assocation, the Salt Lake Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and many more.