Sunday, September 30, 2007

Would Utahns benefit from two series?

The more I think about it, if the Daily Herald is really interested in publishing a series that answers questions on Referendum 1, its editors could take a step in the right direction by looking at Bob Bernick's commentary on the issue, published Friday and found here (,5143,695213777,00.html). I know it's not likely that one paper will take notes from another, but in the interest of being fair, it might be a good idea.

I though Mr. Bernick did a fair job of capturing the present situation, and it was even humorous. "Kennedy, Pelosi and have nothing to do with the Utah voucher act, passed by the 2007 Legislature," he wrote.

They might as well say Osama bin Laden wants to take away parental choice (actually, he might, but he's not on the Utah ballot, either). And while Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. says he won't be a "poster boy" for either side, he's become one for pro-vouchers, since PCE uses the governor's picture in its TV ads. Huntsman did sign the bill but says he wants to stay out of this fight.

I liked, too, that Mr. Bernick took on the question of money in a fair and even-handed way. He wrote,

The NEA actually does have something to do with the November election, because it is funneling millions of dollars into the anti-voucher campaign. But at least we know that the NEA is doing this, and we have a pretty good idea where its PAC money is coming from — public school teachers across the nation who pay PAC dues into the national education group through their local teacher union chapters.

We don't know where all of the money that Parents for Choice in Education is coming from. As reported in last Sunday's Deseret Morning News, the PCE's own PIC and PAC get some funds from the same group's corporation and nonprofit foundation. We do know, from years gone by, that PCE has gotten a lot of out-of-state money (just like the Utah Education Association has gotten a lot of out-of-state money from the NEA) from individuals and groups that back private-school vouchers.

Just as importantly, he addresses the money inside House Bill 148:

I learned from reading the pamphlet that a family of eight making $150,000 a year can still get $1,000 per student in tuition vouchers. And you can get the voucher until you are 21, giving you three extra years to graduate from high school. So, assuming you had kids ranging in ages from 5 to 20, you could get $6,000 to send all your kids to private school, even if you make $150,000 a year.

You know, if the Democrats proposed such a social program, one would think that the Republicans would scream. Why in the world are we giving $6,000 toward a private education for a family making $150,000 a year when we are already taxing Utahns thousands of dollars for a public education?

And he hits one of my peeves dead-on when he points out that House Bill 148 tells schools to lie to the state Department of Education for five years, keeping a student on the rolls after the student has left to enroll in a voucher school.

I understand why the sponsors would include this part. It dampens any criticism that public schools will lose funding if House Bill 148 is passed. But there are two very important facts that we can't ignore: After five years, all of that "free" money goes away, taking a public school right back to where it is today: accountable for producing bumper crops every year without sufficient water, sunlight and fertile soil.

If Mr. Bernick reads weblogs, I hope he reads this one. And if the Daily Herald is going to produce a series of editorials that look and feel like news articles on its front page, I hope Mr. Bernick will consider publishing a series too. I suspect one of them will be less editorial than the other.