Sunday, November 4, 2007

What do other papers recommend?

While it isn't unanimous -- the Provo Daily Record takes a different point of view -- a number of newspapers appear to be speaking with one voice on Referendum 1. Consider these:

Before issuing its final word yesterday, the Trib offered this preview on September 8 (

...[F]or us, the defining question in the voucher debate is simply this: Should taxpayer dollars go to private schools, many of which are religion-based?

Our answer is an emphatic no.

Nonetheless, we believe there is great value in a serious, focused, forthright public discussion of this seminal question.

There is hardly a more pressing issue in Utah than education, and rightly so. Vibrant public schools are where our young people learn many of the skills that will help them become informed, productive citizens able to support themselves and their families, pay taxes and otherwise contribute to the well-being of our communities, our state and the nation.

It is a shame that the Utah Legislature, especially its majority leadership, has lavished so much time and attention promoting what is by far the most comprehensive private school voucher law in the nation, based on the ultraconservative ideal of privatizing most government functions, including education.

This ideological crusade has gone on for years in Utah, without majority public support, while public schools have suffered from a chronic lack of funding that is unrivaled in this country. Our public schools should offer full-day kindergarten for all children, remedial help for students who are struggling, early-grade reading programs and smaller class sizes for the youngest children. Most parents would agree. Minority children and those from low-income households are especially at risk in Utah, but vouchers offer little for them. Most of their parents can't afford and don't want to transfer, and transport, their children to the relatively few private schools, located almost exclusively along the Wasatch Front.

A vast majority of parents want public schools to meet their children's needs. And that takes a united effort of legislators, educators and the community. The voucher issue has been a distraction from that effort, a distraction that Utah's children can ill afford.

Few will escape the voucher debate - the messages coming from both sides will be loud and insistent. All the more reason to pay attention, so that our votes are cast with a clear understanding of the issue. This is a watershed moment for Utah education, for the voting public finally has an opportunity to pass judgment on the wisdom of spending precious tax dollars on private schools for the few.

Maybe afterward, the legislators who represent us on Capitol Hill will finally give their undivided attention to the collaborative task of improving the public school system that is the key to Utah's future.

The Logan Herald Journal gave its final verdict early on September 30 here (

If parents want to send their kids to private school, they should carry the entire cost of the bill. To us, that’s what the arguments for and against the Parent Choice in Education Act — better known as vouchers — comes down to. In November, Utah voters will decide whether parents who choose to send their kids somewhere other than public schools should be allowed to receive tax money for scholarships for private school.

Public schools are vital to our society, and their impact isn’t found just in the kids who attend them. Parents sending their children to a private schools may think the public school system doesn’t offer them any benefits, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Every day, everyone in society interacts with people educated in the public schools. We all benefit from the system, even if we think it’s not the best option for our children.

While personal choice — the argument most often heard from voucher supporters — is important, people won’t lose that choice if vouchers aren’t available. Anyone can send their children to a private school of their choosing — they just have to foot the cost.

Utah has one of the highest, if not the highest, percentage of public school enrollment numbers in the country. It also is regularly near the bottom of per-pupil funding. Shouldn’t the focus be on providing the best possible education to the vast majority of students who will be attending public schools?

Private schools are a luxury. Much like many other things in our society such as Lexus cars, marble floors and lavish vacations, they aren’t an entitlement. People aren’t getting tax stipends because their choice is to drive a Cadillac instead of using public transit, so why should they get benefits to go to a school which they likely would deem superior to public schools?

The arguments for and against vouchers are confusing, and there appears to be a lot of misinformation going around the state from both sides. For us, however, it comes down to supporting what we already know to be a good system: public schools.

On October 16, the Trib weighed in again, building its case here (

The failure of Liberty Academy, a state-chartered and publicly funded school, has been blamed on the inexperience of its founders and directors, mismanagement and a lack of oversight and accountability. The experience of the Salem charter school should serve as a cautionary tale for those who see publicly funded vouchers going to private schools as an answer to Utah's education problems.

House Bill 148, which creates the voucher system that will go before voters Nov. 6, gives the state very little control over how private schools receiving tax money would be operated. That lack of oversight could lead to the same sorts of problems that have plagued Liberty Academy, to the detriment of parents and students - and to the taxpayers who are paying some part of their tuition to attend a private school.

In the heated debate over state Referendum 1, relatively little has been said about schools that may spring up to take advantage of tax-funded vouchers. That is because such talk is mostly speculation. Nevertheless, let's speculate for just a moment. It's almost certain that if the voucher law is approved, some people will want to create new private schools - some to make money and some to control the learning environment for their own children and the children of people who share their educational views.

We've already seen that happen with public charter schools, such as Liberty Academy, founded by people with little or no experience in education who are eager to create alternatives to traditional public schools. Even under the watchful eye of the state, since charter schools come under the Utah education umbrella, there have been financial and academic problems that the state is now trying to correct.

Aside from requiring criminal background checks on teachers and a yearly academic test of their students, the private schools that would get public money through vouchers would be free to do as they please, as long as they don't break laws. And they would be free to use taxpayers' money to do it.

That lack of accountability in private schools could put students and parents at risk as it has with some charter schools. It's a gamble that some parents might be willing to take, but they shouldn't be able to do it with public money.

The Daily Utah Chronicle wrote on October 24 here (,

The Parent Choice in Education Act, also known as H.B. 148, has the potential to further disrupt our state's already deteriorating public education system while widening the gap between high- and low-income families.
To begin, vouchers will not increase the money public schools have. Vouchers will take away a portion, whether it be small or large, of an already insufficient amount allotted to public schools per student enrolled. As one of the worst states in the nation at funding public schools, our public education system needs to do better. There is no way around that fact. It is disturbing that, in a state with a budgetary surplus, legislators would rather implement a system that takes money from public schools than deal with our flailing system by funding it adequately.

Next, there is the issue that the maximum amount allotted in a voucher doesn't come close to the tuition amount for most private schools. The system is by no means going to help members of low-income families because having to pay the thousands of dollars a voucher wouldn't cover is, for many families, impossible. Students in high-income families will likely benefit from the vouchers -- most are already in private schools and can consider a voucher as a $500-off coupon.

This discrepancy in who the vouchers will and will not work for seems as though it will leave schools populated with low-income families bursting at the seams, and schools with high-income families possibly in a better state then they were before. It has the potential to divide our classes further than they already are.

Last, admittance to a private school is by no means an assurance of a higher quality of education. Even the bill itself states that parents will have to accept that "a private school may not provide the same level of services that are provided in a public school."

It is a shame that the education of those who are supposed to lead our country in the future is of such little value that Utah legislators are willing to evade actually fixing the problem with increased funding and put in its place a voucher system that will prove to be more destructive than the system currently in place.

And this weekend, alongside the Trib, the Davis Daily Clipper gave its answer, which is reprinted here (

What voters should really consider are the following:

The tactics used by the pro-voucher forces have been suspect, if not down-right ugly, from the start.

Out-of-state money was used to fund the campaigns of candidates for the legislature without candidates making their stance clear to the voters. Even when we asked some directly, they would not admit it. We take campaigns with hidden agendas very seriously.

Some of the pro-voucher candidates seemed to lack any real substance other than favoring vouchers.

Even with all the high pressure tactics to get pro-voucher people into office, it took severe arm twisting to get vouchers to squeak by in the legislature.

Then pro-voucher forces sought to block Novembers vote by insisting that an "amendment" to the voucher bill could stand on it's own even if people voted down the original voucher law.

When it became evident that a vote couldn't be stopped, pro-voucher forces then tried to count the results on a district-by-district basis. This "electoral college" approach meant vouchers could conceivably pass even if voted down by the majority.

Sanity was saved by the Utah Supreme Court when it ended the mess by ordering a binding, up-and-down vote for Nov. 6, with no funny vote counting.

Aside from the highhanded efforts to subvert the public, a real problem with vouchers is that they are simply the old story of the camel getting its nose in the tent. While vouchers proposals are modest, there is a real risk that demands will soon grow to eat up all the Oreos.

A push to raise the voucher amounts is likely because the present voucher plan doesn't offer enough for poor families to benefit, and it provides only incidental relief for the rest. We suspect the low amounts were planned to ease opposition, but with intent to raise them later.

The whole Oreos thing also seems like an obvious bribe: "Let our children go, and we'll leave money behind." They've always been free to go and leave all the money behind.

Vouchers also seem to be aimed at fixing what isn't broken. With Utah schools doing generally well, vouchers seem a better idea for inner city schools elsewhere.

Somethings not right with this issue, And with the type of questionable behavior some pro-vouchers folks have already shown, it's highly unlikely they'll change their stripes if vouchers pass.

While we don't want to shut the door forever, all this baggage surrounding this issue leads us to conclude it's time to hold off: Someday maybe -- not here, not now.

And let's not forget KSL-TV/Radio, which issued its Piatt-proof word here (

With only a few exceptions, like the Provo Daily Herald and the DesNews (whose editors say couldn't reach consensus), it looks like the media sings from the same hymnal on this issue.