Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Are vouchers "welfare for the rich"?

They're words that I've used myself, responding to the University of Utah's Center for Public Policy and Administration review of House Bill 148 here (http://accountabilityfirst.blogspot.com/2007_10_01_archive.html#7106415494168653762). To me, it's an obvious conclusion, since the maximum voucher award under House Bill 148 is $3,000, meaning that only well-to-do would be able take advantage of the offer and not suffer under additional expense, and since rural parents in particular would have no benefit from it at all, there being no private schools within a reasonable distance of them.

In the last few days, more have come to this conclusion. Educator and blogger Kalyn Denny, responding to a post by Leslie Madsen Brooks here (http://www.blogher.org/school-vouchers-back-ballot), wrote,

I've been arguing against vouchers for so many years that frankly I'm getting a little bored with the topic, but one argument that a lot of people seem to miss is the lack of logic in viewing vouchers as a tax rebate because your kids aren't going to public school. In our society, everyone pays for the public schools (to have an educated society) in the same way that everyone pays for roads even if they don't drive or pays for parks even if they never jog. I pay my share of taxes which support public schools even though I have no children. So how does it make sense that people who do have kids in school get a "rebate" on their taxes (the voucher) because they aren't using that service.

I remember when the big voucher push was on in California and the California Teacher's Union had bumper stickers that called vouchers "Welfare for the Rich." That's about the reality of it. The cheapest private schools here are much more than the $3,000 voucher.

And I do agree completely with these thoughts from Elizabeth:
"That said, I think most voucher supporters are also hypocrites -- while there are some who are truly concerned about poor kids, most of them are primarily interested in promoting the free market as the solution to all of the problems in the world and beating up on the teacher's unions."

I'll end by saying that as a 29 year teaching veteran who has really gone the extra mile to try to make a difference for kids (in the state funded lowest in the nation for public schools) I'm very insulted by some of the tactics the pro-voucher people are using here.

For more about Ms. Denny, you should review her (appetizing) work in the kitchen here (http://kalynskitchen.blogspot.com/).

At the same time, thanks to Ms. Brooks, who commended the research at this blog as well as a few others, including Mata Hari and Gary Weiss, who here (http://garyweiss.blogspot.com/2007/10/patrick-byrne-wows-em-in-utah.html) weighed on Patrick Byrne's inconsiderate suggestion that high school dropouts be burned. Mr. Weiss writes,

Being a childless bachelor. a product of privilege and private schools who has never had to work a day in his life, he has really wowed the good working people of Utah, as you can imagine.

Byrne being Byrne, he immediately has begun his reverse-Dale Carnegie act, making enemies and alienating people. His latest gaffe is smearing opponents of the initiative -- 60% of Utahans, according to recent polls -- as "bigots."

I've still heard no word that Mr. Byrne has expressed regret for the statement. In fact, blogger Falze at Albany Media Bias, apparently defending him, included the full text of a letter from Mr. Byrne to his customers, which read, in part,

Dear Customer,

The NAACP is demanding an apology from me. I refuse.
...I purposefully chose such a horrific image in order to cut through the polite euphemisms by which some assuage their guilt over the current situation.

Honestly, that's a strange admission, since Mr. Byrne's first response to media was that he had been taken out of context, and his second response is that it was a lie (http://www.sltrib.com/ci_7295679). Even his third try wasn't the charm, as he spent a good deal more time talking about himself than making a substantive case for vouchers:

I also built 19 schools and orphanages in Afghanistan, Nepal, and in Africa and South America, schools that now educate 6,000 kids, mostly female: all these schools are named after my Mom.

In a great new video posted this week at YouTube here (http://youtube.com/watch?v=hNS3Tb2CxCQ), a Utah grandpapa called IceThePuc. "A vote for Referendum 1 will simply put $3,000 into some rich guy's pocket," he says. "The rich get richer, the poor get poorer."

What makes his video so compelling is that the granddad sits behind stacks of chocolate cookies. They only "represent a well-known cookies," he explains, "but I can tell you they're cheap, generic knock-offs because, like most of you, I have to save money where I can."

Later in explaining his opposition to vouchers, the granddad says, "Most of us support the public school system because we lead normal lives and live on a budget."

Detailing the eventual loss of public school funding, he asks, "Hey, rich guy, can we have some of our money back?"

He answers himself, "Once we give it away, it's pretty hard to get it back."

"The people out there encouraging you to vote 'Yes' do not represent the typical, Utah, public-education family. My kids went to public school, and now five of my grandkids are attending public school. Help protect our public education funds by voting 'No' on Referendum 1."

His end credits are a special touch. "This non-advertisement has been paid for by one grandparent against Referendum 1," he says, as the words "A 'These Are Good Cookies' Production" scroll up the screen. If any awards are given after this voucher debate is finished, I hope this grandpapa gets one.

In the meantime, I've added his "A 'These Are Good Cookies' Production" to my blogroll on the left, and I hope you'll click there and watch for yourself.

A blogger named Darlene is another writer who has worked out her thought process in writing, at a blog called "A Person Named Eunice," here (http://apersonnamedeunice.blogspot.com/2007/10/school-vouchers-wince.html). She writes,

First, I am basically a democrat at heart, at least economically. Which means that I believe that it is the moral duty of a citizen to contribute to society—yes, in the form of taxes—for the good of others in the society who are not as able to take care of themselves. (I think, for example, that to cheat on your taxes, or to bend the rules on your taxes, or even to cleverly hide assets in “legal” ways in order to avoid paying your share is unethical and, frankly, dishonest.) I feel that it is my job as a Christian to look out for my neighbors—even the ones who seem to be lazy (because, maybe, their parents didn’t teach them to work?).

I feel it is our duty to make sure that not just our own kids but the kids of our neighbors should be taken care of. This includes all those kids on the west side that are such a drain on the property taxes of “us east-siders.” That includes the kids whose parents don’t care enough to research public and private schools and use vouchers to make sure their kids get what’s best for them.

If the voucher proposition passes, every child whose parents care about him will be put into the school, public or private or home-based, that his parents think will be best for him. But what about the kids whose parents don’t care, or who are overworked or undereducated enough not to be able to research what’s best? They will be left in the public schools. These kids are often the ones who use the most resources from the education system, in the form of teacher energy and other, more measurable resources.
My other big reason for being against vouchers is that I don’t believe that it is moral to whine that a system isn’t working and then jump ship. I think the right thing to do is to fix public education, not abandon it. People who are unhappy should join school boards, volunteer in their schools, lobby for more and better asset allocation within districts, etc. If all of the caring parents start jumping ship, it will sink. And, once again, what happens to the kids left on the ship?

I don’t know a single public schoolteacher who is in favor of vouchers. And why is that? You’d think that they would recognize that more private school students means more job opportunities for them, right? Well, it probably does. But the reason is that the kind of people who are choosing to become schoolteachers these days are doing it for only one reason: they care about education. There is NO other reason a person would become a teacher in this world. And the people who really care about education in society (not just about their own kids’ educations) know that the voucher system is not good for society.

I didn't include her entire rationale, so I encourage you to click through and read the rest, too.

Finally, I need to thank Tyler Slack at Desultory Thoughts, who posted a catalog of voucher-related posts more than a week ago, and who found a few of mine helpful in his deliberations. You can read his notes here (http://www.utahadventurevideos.com/blog/archives/2007/10/23/pta-parents-know-best/). He writes, in conclusion,

I haven’t written anything tonight that 100 other bloggers haven’t already written. Nothing original about this, more of a summary if anything. But the last reason I choose not to support vouchers is not only because of the plain information and facts that are laid out before me, helping me see that it is indeed flawed, but all the other individuals and organizations that are advocating on behalf of our children and hoping Referendum 1 is voted down on November 6.

Thanks, Tyler.


Anonymous said...

My friend, Bonnie, had this recent experience...

I just received another call from a group that assumes my ethnic
origin is Hispanic. (I get a lot of those, along with an incredible
amount of mail written in Spanish).

This call was from "Hispanic School Choice". A least this group
representative spoke to me in English. She urged me to support
Hispanic school choice.

When I asked for more details about what that was, she stammered and
flipped through several papers, and then asked again, "Will you vote
for Hispanic school choice?" I asked her if Hispanic school choice
was on the ballot. She said they are trying to get it on the ballot
in Texas, but they need Utah to pass it first.

I then stated that to the best of my knowledge, Hispanic school
choice is not a ballot question in Utah. Then there was more paper
rustling, and she finally said, "we would like you to vote for school
choice vouchers." I then asked if I voted for "school choice
vouchers" would that help Hispanics? She said, "yes, we need to have
school choice vouchers for Hispanics". I asked if my vote would help
Sudanese students. She said, "oh yes, all Hispanics". I hung up.

Bonnie Fernandez

Anonymous said...

Have you learned any more details about the election workers that PCE is bringing here from other states? They're knocking on doors already.

One told me their next stop is California when they leave Utah. It sounded like it's a company of election workers that is hired to travel from place to place, and there are busloads of them.

The one who talked to me said that PCE was paying for their hotel stay while they're here. It was a nice person but you could tell he wasn't from here and couldn't answer all of the questions about the issue.

UtahTeacher said...

This ad from an out-of-state consulting firm was found on a conservative youth blog back east:

First, the voucher advocates claim to be the ones doing the referendum. Huh?

Look at the bottom about the New Mexico consultants sending the email. I would bet this level of service cost at least half a million dollars:

Typically, Gordian Strategies is retained by corporations, associations or political committees to elect candidates, gain voter approval of ballot measures, and influence and motivate public and community leader opinion.


Add in the $6,000 pay per head, room, board, and plane tickets of various out-of-state, right-wing college kids and you've got yourself an expensive bill that doesn't have to be reported in Utah campaign reports. It was just a private transaction for services in New Mexico...