Sunday, October 7, 2007

Why are bloggers left to ask the hard questions?

I want to thank a lot of other bloggers for what they're doing to raise the fundamental issues in the debate about the voucher referendum. It was because of reading some of them that I started this one, and I'm also glad to see that others have made the same decision even more recently.

But before I go into more detail about that, I wish I could have seen the voucher debate in Orem on Wednesday. If I read Glen Warchol's report in the Trib correctly, the majority of Parents for Choice in Education's in-state contributors were there on the stage, and that was just Patrick Byrne. (I'm sorry, but he does seem to be the one major donor from inside Utah.) Can you count the essays, emails and mail from Paul Mero's Sutherland Institute as contributions to PCE?

Based on what Mr. Warchol wrote here (, not much was made any clearer because there's still no agreement on the numbers -- numbers of dollars, numbers of students, numbers of schools. These appear to be the only clear facts from the debate:

(1) Patrick Byrne believes American education "is a disaster" and believes that only unions are opposed to vouchers, though a former state leader of the PTA corrected him. It was concerned citizens who organized to put the question on the ballot, she said.
(2) Paul Mero tried to cast voucher opponents as racist and bigoted, implying that wealthy white people who oppose vouchers don't want to help poor minorities through vouchers, although State Board of Education Chairman Kim Burningham corrected him. Even millionaires can collect these vouchers under House Bill 148, he said. I would presume that includes white millionaires too.

Here is the question I would love to see asked in a debate:
(1) Utah public schools are accountable to parents, to the public, to the legislature which funds them and to the federal government which sends No Child Left Behind mandates from Washington. And they manage to serve more than 90 percent of Utah's school children well with one of the lowest per-pupil appropriations in the country. It is possible that using these proposed voucher dollars to raise per-pupil expenditures in public schools, even a little bit, might improve the quality of public schools a lot?

It's the sort of question that bloggers have been asking for a while but that I haven't seen many regular reporters ask. And time is running out to ask the questions and get real answers, because the November 6 referendum is now 30 days away.

Getting back to the topic of the blog community, I want to thank the ones that I read on a regular basis for continuing to ask the hard questions and for digging to find the answers, starting with a brand-new blogger named Kenneth Cole at Republican Wondering. I know how tough it is to question the judgment of the people you respect, Mr. Cole. I also thank a few writers who have only written about this topic once or twice, like Being is Somethingness, Davis Didjerido and Singing Bravely, who is a parent and PTA leader.

There are three blogs that I try to read daily because they always have something new on their front page, whether or not it's related to the voucher referendum: the Sidetrack, Utah Amicus and Wasatch Watcher.

And then there are the ones that may not post something new every day, but when they post, it's always something worth reading. These folks do the sort of research that I enjoy most.

One is Against Utah Vouchers, who has done double duty in the past several weeks. "Mata Hari" exposed Mark Towner of the Spyglass as the email spammer who dumped pro-voucher literature in the inboxes of UTPS supporters a week or two ago. But before that, she tracked Utah voucher campaign money from coast-to-coast, starting on the West Coast with a man named Tim Draper in California, crossing eastward through the Walton Family Foundation of Arkansas and All Children Matter in Michigan (the same people I've been trying to understand for three months), to a man in New York named Howie Rich, who apparently has pushed ballot initiatives and school vouchers in a lot of states. (One thing I have not been able to understand, Ms. Hari, is why these people in California, Arkansas, Michigan and New York aren't spending their money at home, working to create universal statewide vouchers in their own states. Is it because they don't want to do experiments in their own back yards?)

Another couple of great blogs is Coolest Family Ever (thanks, Jesse) and Brooke Anderson's EduBlahg, where Ms. Andbrooke shows she's an unapologetic educator and union member with definite opinions about what's happening to her profession. Jeremy Manning at Jeremy's Jeremiad and Bob Aagard at The World, According to Me (now Rated R) keep, in my opinion, the best catalog of what's being said and posted in the blogosphere on the voucher debate. Bob made me laugh out loud with his personal search campaign. Oldenburg did the same with his post on Missouri moneyman Chip Hurth at Third Avenue. And Voice of Utah did it with their research here.

Unfortunately, these investigations are taking place in the blogosphere rather than in the "real" media. Why is it that only bloggers are asking these hard questions and publishing the answers? While we see a lot of quote-unquote journalism in the major papers, it's really mostly here's-what-happened, and he-said-then-he-said kind of reporting. I haven't seen any newspaper do a study of how the money from All Children Matter flowed through which lawmakers' campaign accounts, and how those lawmakers voted on the voucher plan. And while Mata Hari exposed Mark Towner's email spamming, I haven't seen a newspaper publish any news of it -- and I thought such spamming was a crime. Paul Rolly is the only columnist I can remember who published news of the voucher sponsors organizing lobbyists to campaign for the voucher plan.

What does it take to have a real public-interest investigation done by, and published in, one of the major newspapers?


Jesse Harris said...

More disturbing than this is that I e-mailed this data to the author of the original Deseret News article... and nothing. It's been three days and they haven't asked a single question or published a story. If asking the question about who sent the e-mails was so important, why on earth isn't the answer to the question at least the same priority? Is Joe Cannon watching out for his buddy Mark Towner? Is that why Lavar Webb refuses to publish any of the furor over Towner (his former employee) and his imbecility? It's like honesty and criticism only apply if it can be hurled at "the other side". Disgusting.

ed waldo said...

I've written at length about the money laundering that "All Children Matter" represents, including Betsy de Vos, and the Late John Walton, from Wyoming and Michigan through Virginia to South Carolina.


Or, if you paste this entire line into Google: "All Children Matter"

you'll get quite a lot of hits.

Hope this is of some help.