Thursday, November 1, 2007

Does Will's column pass the "truth test'?

Boy, did Halloween bring the spooks out. (Did you get "bood"?) Washington Post columnist George Will and the Libertarian reporter John Stossel each published columns yesterday that have spread like wildfire through the voucher community this morning. Do a google search and your screen will light up.

But I'm embarrassed for both of them, and for us, and for Utah. In digging for facts that support their point-of-view, they get more wrong than right. Data on the cost of vouchers from an impartial analysis, for example, is printed in the Utah Voter’s Guide. If Mr. Will had used that source rather than the propaganda of the pro-voucher groups, he might have been more accurate with his data.

In the end, Mr. Will's confusion makes Utah and Utahns look bad. This is what happens when a local issue -- that wasn't even a local issue until a national organization brought it to Utah and bought their way into the legislature -- gets the kind of attention that this voucher plan has gotten.

Blogger Oldenburg outdoes himself responding to Will's fantasizing, noting it contains "so many lies in such a short space, that merits an award in rightwing shilling" (

In his summation, he writes,

I won't even bother with the diatribe against Teachers' Unions, only to say that he doesn't mention the out of state money coming in defense of vouchers from Amway founders etc. Oh and when you are calling someone else's arguments "threadbare," Mr. Will, you might want to make sure yours aren't full of crap themselves.

He put it more concisely than I would have, but I'll add this: When a coalition of parents, teachers, business leaders, civil rights groups and others opposes the voucher plan, this isn't juts a a fight of the "teachers union."

The sad thing is that Mr. Will's smear of Utah has been published in newspapers across the nation. As they ate breakfast this morning, thousands of people from coast-to-coast got from his column the only information they were likely ever to read about the Beehive State and its voucher plan this year, mistakes and all. That's embarrassing.

His column is syndicated, so it may continue to run in other newspapers tomorrow and through the weekend. But today, according to Google, it ran in the Washington Post, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, the Austin American-Statesman, the Pasadena Star-News, The Union Leader (of New Hampshire), the Hilton Head Island Packet, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Norman (Oklahoma) Transcript, the Grand Forks Herald, the Canton (Ohio) Repository, the Chicago Daily Herald, the Miami Herald, the Daily Herald, the Indianapolis Star, the Daily Camera, the Herald Net, the Sacramento Bee, the Hartford Courant, the News & Observer, the New York Post, the Daily Press,, the Albany Times Union, the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal World and the Orlando Sentinel.

And, of course, right here at home in the Deseret Morning News (,5143,695223603,00.html).

Oldenburg's already done a point-by-point analysis, but I want to ask some fundemental questions. Mr. Will may not have all the answers because he demonstrates that he doesn't have a clear picture of the issue. But I'll just ask them out loud and let anyone answer who will (no pun intended).

Isn't it false to say that the basic cost of a student in public school is $7,500, when that's an average -- when costs are lower in elementary schools and higher in high schools, and even higher for students with disabilities and/or special needs? And if we agree on this point, then why do we continue to use that average figure as the standard for thinking about the $3,000 voucher plan?

The fact is that Utah spends the lowest per pupil in the nation, at $5,257 per student (, so Mr. Will is flat wrong when he says we spend $7,500 per child. And, Utah has the largest class sizes in the nation.

Haven't even the supporters of vouchers misled voters about the "average" cost of private schools by taking out the most expensive schools? Mr. Will repeats the lie when he says that the "average cost of tuition" is only $3,000. I saw Richard Eyre explain that they took out the most expensive ones, the one he called the "Mercedes" schools, in a televised debate. If the average cost of private tuition is $8,000, then say it's $8,000.

People supporting vouchers have tried the argument that 150,000 new students are going to flood the public schools in the next decade. But hasn't Governor Jon Huntsman said that with those new students will come families paying taxes, and that the state can accommodate them because our economic growth is strong?

And this may sound crazy, but it's bugged me for a long time and I want to ask it, knowing now how much money Patrick Byrne (and his parents) have poured into this debate. At the end of the school day, who has invested more time and passion into helping to educate Utah's schoolchildren, the tens of thousands of Utah educators, or Mr. Byrne? Who work with those children day-by-day and week-by-week? Who works with those children's parents, grand-parents, foster parents, legal guardians? Who has impromptu parent-teacher meetings in the grocery store, in the mall, at the ballfield, at the post office, and everywhere else? Is that Mr. Byrne, who gave more than $3 million himself to impose the voucher plan on Utah, or is it Utah's educators, who each gave small amounts to fight back against him?

And here's one more thing, since Mr. Will's column discusses political labels. I'm conservative because I watch what I consume and spend, not because I call myself "a" conservative. People who call themselves conservative used to argue for strong accountability above all, in everything -- including public education, and health care, and a lot of other issues. But now, it's bloggers who are left asking where's the accountability, because those in power in Salt Lake City have told us they want a voucher plan that has none in it. While Mr. Will is looking around for new definitions and new labels, I hope he'll figure out what to call those of us who still practice what we preach.

Mr. Will should know that Utahns didn't pick this fight or start this debate. No one here asked for a private school voucher plan before out-of-state financiers -- namely All Children Matter of Michigan, but others, too -- began buying their way into Utah legislative campaigns. Even now, the most recent polls show that nearly 60 percent of Utah voters oppose it for its flaws and failures.

Mr. Will needs to do some better research before he blithely spreads known falsehoods throughout the country through his column. This column, too, might pass Richard Piatt's "truth test" at KSL, but it doesn't tell the truth.


UtahTeacher said...

Hi, I'm wondering where you get the $5,257 figure? I would appreciate knowing what costs are you dividing by number of students? You can comment here, email me, or post on my blog where I'm going into this tonight (probably not until after 11:00 because I'm attending one of the voucher debates--haven't decided on Orem or Provo):

Because whatever costs they assume and lie about, the voucher is funded specifically off the much smaller amount of state funding that doesn;t include local bonds, fed funds, etc. About $3800 of MSP.

Referendum One said...

I should have included the online link in my text today. It's from the most recent U.S. census report here (

Hope this helps.