Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Do businessmen and bloggers agree with KSL?

It's interesting to see how decisions are being made as we get closer to Election Day. I'm especially interested in the decisions being made by fellow bloggers, mainly because we take the time to write out our thought processes, and I value being able to read those decision-making processes. Those conclusions -- like the conclusions of the KSL editorial board, in an article published yesterday here (http://www.ksl.com/index.php?nid=238&sid=1997679) -- are a lot more valuable to me than to look at the statistics we see in polls, although I'd like to mention them today too.

Getting right to their point, KSL's editors write,

The KSL Editorial Board has thoughtfully considered the views presented by opponents and proponents of school vouchers, and has come to the conclusion that a broad taxpayer supported voucher system should not be implemented in Utah.

Our opposition to vouchers boils down to a fundamental question: Is Utah's public school system broken and in such disarray that doing something as radical and unproven as directing precious tax dollars toward private schools, many of them parochial, the answer?

We think not!

It is not a question of school choice since parents already have a variety of options in Utah. Any parent who so chooses can send a child to a private school, or a charter school, or a different public school! School choice is not the issue!

A vote against vouchers must not be interpreted as a vote for the status quo. Make no mistake about it, there's plenty of room for improvement. Still, contemplate what could be accomplished if the energy that has been directed at vouchers could be redirected toward implementing reasoned, effective and adequately funded reforms in the tried and tested public school system.

In KSL's view, that's where the focus of Utahns ought to be. Let's reject vouchers and work toward making changes that will benefit all Utah children for generations to come.

And there's not an Oreo cookie in sight.

But before I go further, though, I want to thank Marshall at Wasatch Watcher, who was researching the Free Capitalist Project before I ever heard of it. He mentioned it last night here (http://www.wasatchwatcher.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=313), "During the summer we noticed an organization by the name of Free Capitalist that seemed a little too suspicious." And if you click through his link here (http://www.wasatchwatcher.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=191), you can read his original notes on FCP from June. In fact, I learned from Marshall a new term that I'm going to adopt: "wingnut welfare." (I'll give appropriate credit when I use it.) His research began when he saw billboards advertising the FCP and wondered who was paying for such a grand advertising campaign, and he deduced that it couldn't be a regular small business.

So I think there are some scenarios playing out here:
-the owner of the billboards are paying for the advertising out of their own pocket.
-a wealthy donor shelling out cash to support the advertising campaign.
-this is another right wing astroturf group.

Either way you slice it I don't see how an operation like this is breaking even without some wingnut welfare.

What is wingnut welfare? For those that haven't heard it here is a quick synopsis. Basically wingnut welfare is support for an organization that could not exist in the real world without the infusion of cash from usually a wealthy donor (that incidentally usually benefits from right wing policies) like the Walton family.

Now this would not normally be so hard to swallow if it wasn't the fact that an organization like this goes around telling people how great the free market is but can't even support its own activities.

I think I agree with Marshall. I think the Icebergs are probably great money-makers for Rick Koerber, but I don't think they're big enough to pay for the FCP ad campaign.

Thanks, Marshall, for your notes and for giving me a new term to use.

Now, whether we look at polls or we read the decisions written by thoughtful people in the blogs, it looks like Parents for Choice in Education, the Free Capitalist Project and the sponsors of House Bill 148 aren't fooling many people. Just this morning, KCPW reported that the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce -- which includes Patrick Byrne, PCE's largest individual (public) donor -- can't agree on whether or not to support the voucher plan. Reporter Julie Rose said here (http://www.kcpw.org/article/4652) that the pro-voucher business leaders are so angry at the delay that they're acting on their own:

Members of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce are so divided on vouchers that Vice President Natalie Gochnour says they're struggling to take a position on the issue. Several prominent CEOs are fed up with the delay and now running their own campaign in support of school choice.
The group is distributing form letters to business leaders, asking them to promote vouchers to their employees...

Isn't that strange? Business leaders are going to ask their employees to vote for the voucher referendum. Isn't that what PCE's lawyers said was illegal? Remember, PCE's attorneys sent a letter to school district administrators more than a month ago telling them they couldn't allow any literature about the referendum to be displayed at their work sites, and they couldn't allow school employees to talk about the referendum either.

I wonder if PCE's attorneys will send a letter to Mr. Byrne and the pro-voucher members of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, advising them that urging their employees to take any particular action on Election Day is not legal? Or is it? Maybe it was only illegal to talk about the details of the voucher plan or to hand out literature about it, if doing so might lead people to oppose it. Maybe it's entirely legal for business owners in the private sector to tell their employees to vote for it. Is it legal?

Anyway, Ms. Rose's point is that the business community is split on vouchers. If that's true, they might benefit from reading Pramahaphil's post at Green Jello, which outlines the suggested costs of the plan, and the suggested "savings" of the plan, then reaches a conclusion about the plan here (http://pramahaphil.blogspot.com/2007/10/vouchers-humble-pie.html). Frankly, it's one of the best, most-reasoned posts I've read about the issue. Pramahaphil writes,

I have been reviewing the [Legislative Fiscal Analysis] report again and again, and I have hit a paradigm shifting roadblock in my support of vouchers. I do still believe vouchers would produce a fairly decent net savings for the first few years (savings ranging somewhere near 4-6.2 millon or in a worse case scenario a loss) , but there will come an equilibrium within 5 to 6 years where the savings break even, and when vouchers fully implement in the 13th year and onward vouchers will inevitiably begin to net annual losses. One might argue about the ambiguities of savings from private school student who would have gone to private schools with or without vouchers and the students who may attend private schools because vouchers make the difference, however it is impossible to get around the fact as time goes by (especially after year thirteen) all students in private schools will be receiving voucher money (whether or not they wanted or needed vouchers to incentivize them out of the public school system).

Judging from the Legislative Fiscal Analyst's Report, from year 13 (and I assume from then on) vouchers will net annual losses between $43,088,978 and $59,492,020. There may have been some options that could have alleviated this undesirable effect of subsidizing students who were "no-matter-what-the-cost" private school bound such as requiring a 1 or 2 year period of public school attendance for voucher eligibility. However, with the exception to the eligibility of current Utah-residing, school-aged students no such requirements were included in HB148 or 174.

Pramahaphil is an accountant, so it gives me even more cause for concern when he spends this much time poring over the Legislative Fiscal Analysis and finds more questions than answers. I tend to rely on my own accountant to know how to find workable solutions when we meet at tax-time. If Pramahaphil has hit a stumbling block, maybe it's time to step back and take a deep breath. He continues,

After the 13th year and beyond it would be a drain on the public coffers, and I'm afraid it would be viewed as nothing more than another entitlement program.

If HB148 or 174 would have had a provision forcing voucher recipients to enter public school for at least a year or more before being voucher eligible, the thirteen year savings to loss issue may have been solved. This is not the case, HB148 would have its beneficial savings for a season but in the long-run would become a drain of Utah's tax dollars. I hope that if and when Ref 1 is voted down the Legislature reconsiders the issue, and looks at how to resolve the 13 year crunch.

Regretfully, I think I will be dropping my support of referendum 1 with the forlorned hope that the idea doesn't die permanently in this state. If this damages my credibility -- so be it. The idea is good, but the plan's execution has that 1 major flaw for me. This paradigm shift has not been an easy one for me to embrace.

In comments at the bottom of Pramahaphil's post, a lot of readers praise his courage for taking this position, and I agree with them.

Mike Jones at Utahania is one of them, writing here (http://utahania.blogspot.com/2007/10/other-people-question-spending-tax.html), "Pramahaphil over at Green Jello is even an accountant. I am not very good at accounting, so reading the numbers in the Voter's Guide was all I could handle. Pramahaphil read the Legislative Fiscal Analyst's Report, probably enjoyed it, and reached a similar conclusion to mine."

Darren Draper is another blogger who spelled out his rationale for his "7 readers in Utah," here (http://drapestakes.blogspot.com/2007/10/why-ill-be-voting-against-referendum-1.html). Darren is an education technology specialist from Sandy who works for the Jordan School District. He writes,

This issue of vouchers, currently being referred to as Referendum 1 (here and also here, see page 4), will be decided in three weeks when Utahns will vote on one of the most debated, polarizing issues in state history. As I've been asked by several people "why referendum 1 is so bad", I'll give you my take now.

While never guaranteed to be great, private school can be great... for those that can afford it.

Most Utahns can't afford private school - even with the funding that vouchers would provide.

Hence, Referendum 1 would be a way to reward the people that already utilize private schools and not really a way to recruit new students.

To continue, I honestly believe the opening paragraphs of our nation's Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Furthermore, I believe (like many of the educators that served to shape our nation's educational system):

-Education is one of those unalienable rights to which all men (and women) are entitled.

-Neither liberty nor the pursuit of happiness can truly be obtained without an education.

In closing, I think there are many questions that all people need to answer for themselves:
-How do you feel about public funding for private schools?

-Have you studied the issues yourself?

-Do you think that every child has a right to a quality education?

Another blogger I enjoy reading, Bob Aagard, has spelled out his views on the plan itself but also takes a hard stand against the tactics used to promote it here (http://bobaagard.blogspot.com/2007/10/national-groups-imposing-things-on.html). After leading a small campaign of his own to find young Jeffrey Isbell, the blogger from Illinois hired by PCE to do its work on the internet, Bob writes this note:

My problem with Jeff is not his coming to Utah to work for something he believes in. That would be hypocrisy on my part. Is that any different than my going to Minnesota for two years to share the Gospel with those good people?

My problem lies in the hypocrisy of PCE complaining about NEA money (which Utah educators have paid into for years) coming in, but ignore the large percentage of their funding that comes from out of state. Not to mention their out of state employees.

Vouchers have always been about outside groups spending money to force this on Utah, in the hopes that it will spread across the country. Kinda like forcing democracy on the middle east. Only, instead of doing it with guns, they are doing it with money. Look at all the money the Walton heirs of plugged in to get pro-voucher legislators elected.

Recent polling has showed that 61% of Utahns will vote against vouchers in two weeks. 61%. That's a higher percentage then voted for John Huntsman in 2004.

Utahns don't want this program. Please stop forcing your views on us. You're wasting your money.

Which brings me to that poll, described here in a Trib article (http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_7236295). This one was done by The Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, and it shows that 61 of voters say they'll vote against the plan.

That followed a poll done by Dan Jones and Associates earlier in October, described in a DesNews article here (http://deseretnews.com/article/1,5143,695216987,00.html). In that one, "sixty percent of Utah voters say they would likely vote against a voucher program."

And that result followed an even earlier poll: "In July, the Deseret Morning News reported on a similar poll that found that 57 percent of those surveyed would most likely vote against the voucher program..."

From these results, it would appear that a lot of people have, just as Governor Huntsman suggested last week, taken the time to read the plan, considered carefully its details, weighed its impacts, and come to the same conclusions drawn by the KSL editorial board.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Big business such as Qwest and many real estate companies such as Mansell and Associates, have required their employees to contribute their Political action committees without employee input on how those monies are spent. It doesn't surprise me that they would take additional strong arm tactics to see this bill pass.