Monday, August 20, 2007

Who's behind it?

Last week's flare-up about the "push-poll" sponsored by voucher proponents knocked the real substance of the November 6 ballot referendum on vouchers in Utah off the front burner for a couple of days. Voucher proponents worked hard to divert public attention from that substance and focus instead on people and issues far from the Wasatch Front. But the fact remains that there's a pretty important question on the ballot, and Utahns will get to decide whether they want a statewide voucher program that uses taxpayer dollars to create and fund a separate, private school system.

One good thing to come from the "push-poll" mess is that it gives us a chance to reflect on who put this voucher question on the ballot. The answer, of course, is Utahns. And, all things considered, Utahns spoke pretty loudly in doing it. No petition drive to put a question on the ballot had succeeded since 1974, so the battle to make it happen this year was uphill from the start.

The threshold was relatively high. A successful petition required a minimum of 92,000 signatures -- 10 percent of the vote count in the last gubernatorial election -- and required that the petitioners collect that percentage of signatures in at least 15 of Utah's 29 counties. That would be a tall order already, but there was also a time limit: 40 days.

And it goes without saying that only the signatures of qualified Utah voters would be accepted.

Which is why the Deseret Morning News of May 1 started its ballot referendum report with historic news, as petitioners not only submitted a successful petition, but also "[set] a record for the number of signatures gathered for a referendum petition. Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert said that not only are the 124,218 verified signatures a record number on a referendum petition, it's the first time in 33 years a referendum petition has been successful. The last one resulted in a land-use bill being overturned, in 1974."

That's a pretty powerful statement: Placing the voucher question on the ballot required that ninety-two thousand signatures from qualified Utah voters be collected, but the final tally showed that one hundred twenty-four thousand, two hundred eighteen individual, qualified Utahn voters felt strongly enough about the issue to sign their names on the petition -- more than thirty thousand more signatures of qualified Utah voters than were actually required.

[For those who don't remember, there was a strange footnote in the News's voucher story that day. "Utahns for Electoral Fairness", led by Bart Grant and Mike Ridgway, and examined the petitions and "believed enough of the signatures were fraudulent to nullify the referendum," the News reported. They went so far as to file a motion to stop the counting of the signatures, so the voucher referendum could not proceed. And history shows that a record number of valid signatures of qualified Utah voters were counted.]

But the News included this quote from the leader of the voucher movement: "When you have that many PTA moms and teachers and other government employees working on this, it's not hard to gather enough signatures to put on the ballot."

Her comment might have accurately been rephrased this way: "When you have that many qualified Utah voters who oppose the statewide voucher plan, it's not hard to gather enough signatures to put on the ballot." But even that statement would diminish the power of this particular issue, because many other ballot-referendum petition drives had been initiated and had failed in the 33 years since the last successful one in 1974. So the achievement really requires admiration.

But there was another note of discord running through the voucher leader's comment that day. "[Y]ou have that many PTA moms and teachers and other government employees working on this," she said. The fact is that signers of the petition were Utah moms, whether they were members of their PTA or not. And the teachers who signed were Utah teachers. And if any government employees signed the petition, they were qualified Utah voters who work for the people of Utah (which is the definition of a government employee).

That note of discord, even contempt for Utahns generally, was striking then, but just as striking again when you consider last week's nasty poll operation, and the voucher advocates' secrecy around it. As several media outlets and letter-writers noted, the push-pollers went out of their way to tie other organizations and other issues to the voucher debate, certainly attempting to discolor Utahns' decision-making processes about this important issue.

A quick look at the website of Utahns for Public Schools shows what I thought it would show: a list of those Utah organizations who worked to put the measure on the ballot and who are working to inform voters about the issue. Not surprisingly, the UTPS site even includes live links to the Utah organizations who are partners in that group: Utah State Parent Teacher Association (PTA), Utah School Boards Association (USBA), Utah School Superintendents Association (USSA), Utah School Employees Association (USEA), Utah Education Association (UEA), NAACP - Salt Lake Chapter, League of Women Voters, Utah Association of Elementary School Principals (UAESP), and the Utah Association of Secondary School Principals (UASSP).

None of these partner-groups is a surprise. All are member-organizations made up of Utahns. When I clicked through the live links to satisfy my curiosity, I found a few citations that answered a question: They range in size from the largest, the Utah PTA, which includes more than 138,000 Utahns, to what may be the smallest, the League of Women Voters, which includes about 350 Utahns in eight local leagues.

All Utahns. They're all Utahns, working with Utahns to think through the likely outcomes of a voucher plan facing Utahns on the November 6 ballot.

So, since my curiosity about who's on the anti-voucher side was covered, I looked next at the website for Parents for Choice in Education, the pro-voucher organization, to see what partner-organizations it includes. Though I looked for a while, the fact is that I didn't find any.

I found this "history":

Concerned by the looming education crisis in Utah and around the nation, Doug Holmes and Jordan Clements founded the Utah Education Funding Project in November 2000. Though the name of the organization has since changed and the breadth of its activities expanded, the founding principle of Parents for Choice in Education (PCE) has remained the same—Believe in Parents!

Since its founding , PCE has expanded into three organizations:

Parents for Choice in Education Foundation: Like the original Utah Education Funding Project, PCE Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating citizens, policymakers, and media on the benefits of school choice.

Parents for Choice in Education, Inc.: Founded in 2001, PCE Inc. focuses on direct advocacy through grassroots organization and lobbying policy makers.

Parents for Choice in Education PAC: As a non-partisan Political Action Committee, PCE PAC has been helping to elect school choice candidates since 2002.

But I didn't find any actual Utahns, except for the organization's board of directors (http://www.choiceineducation.org/board.php), and it is my assumption that they are all Utahns.

Does anyone have a better idea of which Utah organizations are supporting the Parents for Choice in Education?

1 comment:

Davis Didjeridu said...

Check out this blog: A Place for Utah Vouchers. Apparently, "respect, understanding, acceptance, and sensitivity" are not things Utah children should be learning. BTW, they would not post my comment on that post pointing out their idiocy.