Halloween was last week, but I was reminded yesterday of the story of Frankenstein's monster. The monster was cobbled together from the parts of criminal corpses. It brought havoc and mayhem wherever it went. And when it was gone, no one in those communities mourned its absence.
This weekend, several newspapers offered their opinions. They sounded a lot like the opinions of those towns and villages who were threatened by Frankenstein's monster. Referendum 1? Not here, they said. Not this one, not now.
So who is (a day early) mourning the banishment of this monster? Only the editors of papers outside Utah, who were never threatened by a monster cobbled together from dead theories and diseased ideas. Only editors who, like Dr. Frankenstein himself, think it's a good idea to experiment with someone else's life and community and state.
Just across the southern border in Arizona, the editors of the Republic sound almost sad that they may not get to see the experiment play out in a neighbor's backyard. They write here (http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/opinions/articles/1105mon1-05.html),
For years, the booming guns of the education wars over vouchers sounded in the distant East - in Cleveland; in Milwaukee. Last spring, the war came to the West. After 10 years of haggling over school vouchers, the Utah Legislature finally (by a razor-thin 38-37 vote in its House of Representatives) passed a measure that seemed to answer the greatest concern of those who opposed school choice: That it would drain traditional public schools of funding.
It appears unlikely that anyone will discover whether Utah's Parent Choice in Education Program - the nation's first universally available voucher program - would accomplish that feat, however. A successful petition drive placed the measure on the Utah ballot. According to polls, 61 percent of Utahns oppose the voucher plan, which will go before voters as Referendum 1 on Tuesday.
So if the vote goes as expected, the first real Western battle of the voucher wars will be won by advocates of the status quo.
Might the next skirmish be in Arizona? Advocates like attorney Clint Bolick, who believes Arizona's constitution does not prohibit parents from using their tax dollars to make choices about where to send their children to school, suspects this state might be next.
If the wars do come here, the Utah experience may prove illustrative. But it does not bode well for the advocates of change.
But articles in two New York City newspapers express the same conclusions today. Can you imagine this? That two newspapers in New York City, as far east as you can get, and as far from Utah as a body can be, are focused on what happens in Utah tomorrow?
I think this illustrates a point I made a long time ago, that the voucher proposal was never a Utah idea. It was an idea laid, incubated and hatched somewhere else, then imported and painted to look like it was a Utah idea.
Reporter Elizabeth Green of the New York Sun (which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, isn't it?) apparently got in touch with Patrick Byrne before writing her report here (http://www.nysun.com/article/65835). He explained who she should blame if Referendum 1 is defeated, and he told her he hopes that "the gods" will direct the will of Utah voters:
Tomorrow's vote on a Utah ballot referendum is shaping up as the next test in the campaign for school vouchers.
Voters will determine whether Utah becomes the first state in the nation to enact a universal school voucher program, letting any parent in the state use a voucher to pay for private school. Limited voucher programs are already in place in Cleveland, Milwaukee, and the District of Columbia, and voucher advocates hope that a victory in Utah could give the policy initiative new momentum.
Fueled by more than $8 million in campaign spending, one and a half times what was spent in the last governor's race in Utah, public discussion on what is known as Referendum One is vigorous. Several people said it is impossible to set foot in the state without noticing the bright signs in yards and windows begging citizens to vote yes or no, or being bombarded by television and radio ads filling the airwaves.
Even the Utah Jazz basketball game Saturday night was the scene for a showdown, as voucher supporters sandwiched between yellow "Vote For 1" signs received reactions that a leading advocate of vouchers, Patrick Byrne, said ranged from cheers to spitting on his shoes.
Mr. Byrne, the CEO of the Salt Lake City-based company Overstock.com, has poured more than $4 million of his personal fortune into supporting the voucher push, matching more than $3 million in anti-voucher spending by the nation's largest teachers union, the National Education Association.
Mr. Byrne said the fight is attracting so much attention because it could be a prelude to a cascade of similar programs across the country. "Why is the NEA here? Because they understand the national implications," he said. "They understand that this is the ice-breaking, and if it gets in and it succeeds, it would have a demonstration effect."
The latest polls suggest a yes vote is unlikely, with a 20-point spread between opposition to the measure, 56%, and support, 36%. Only 8% of voters told the Salt Lake Tribune they were undecided. Arguing his cause is still alive, Mr. Byrne, who holds a philosophy Ph.D. from Stanford, where he met his mentor, the late voucher supporter Milton Friedman, quoted Beowulf: "Fate often saves the undoomed warrior if his courage concurs."
"In other words," he said, "it may all look hopeless, but if you don't throw in the towel and you keep fighting, once in while the gods come in and do you a favor. I am hoping for a favor from the gods."
If only Mr. Byrne had been sending up prayers for the Jazz defense.
Following Mr. Byrne's lead, the Wall Street Journal itself weighs in today. It gives Richard Piatt at KSL a pat on the back for helping the voucher campaign with his faulty "truth test," but it goes ahead and assigns blame for Referendum 1's loss to "teachers [who] are very good at instructing [children] in how to run a political campaign."
I don't subscribe to the Wall Street Journal but I have a friend who does, and he sent me the story, which is here online (for subscribers) (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119422589982182044.html):
Utah's children may not excel in math or English, but their teachers are very good at instructing them in how to run a political campaign. As 2007 achievement test data show another disappointing year for the state's children, the teachers union is running a multi-million-dollar campaign to insulate itself from competition.
Still, the unions are banking that fear of the unknown will trump demonstrated incompetence. The opponents have raised a bundle to disseminate their predictions of doom, including more than $3 million from status quo headquarters, the National Education Association. They're stoking that fear with antivoucher TV ads that aren't winning high marks for honesty. Salt Lake's KSL-TV, an NBC affiliate that has editorialized against vouchers, nonetheless felt compelled to label as "false" the central claims in two recent attack ads against vouchers.
One ad featured the "Utah teacher of the year" claiming that vouchers "take resources away from public schools." In fact, the law provides only up to $3,000 per child toward private school tuition, depending on family income, and the voucher money comes from the state's general fund, not the education budget. The average voucher will cost $2,000, but the state now spends $7,500 per student. The public schools get to pocket the difference, $5,500, without an obligation to provide any services. So the more parents choose vouchers, the higher per-student spending will rise in the public schools.
Another attack ad claimed that private schools would have "no accountability," when in fact they are required under the law to report to parents how their children in voucher-supported schools do each year on nationwide achievement tests. Market-based competition will force exactly the kind of accountability that the unions fear in public schools.
Judging from recent polls, the scare campaign is winning. Still, supporters of school choice say that the voucher law could still survive, thanks to expected low turnout among the general population and higher-than-normal turnout among Utah Latinos, who make up roughly 12% of the population. Nonprofit Hispanics for School Choice reports an aggressive get-out-the-vote effort of personal visits and phone calls, and increased attention on Spanish-language radio, and at community events and church services.
Allowing the landmark voucher law to go forward would be a victory for students of all races, with more choices for parents and more opportunities for students. Halloween is over; Utahns should ignore the horror stories from unions trying to protect themselves, no matter the consequences for kids.
Why not build a Frankenstein's monster and turn it loose in the Big Apple? Then the New York Sun and the Wall Street Journal wouldn't have as far to travel in order to report on it.
Back at home, the Ogden Standard reminded Utahns this morning of its own opinion, and I'll give its editors the last word today, found here (http://www.standard.net/live/opinion/editorials/118023/):
Citizens' State Referendum Number 1
a Vote: "Against"
Our opinion is simply that the law passed earlier this year by a one-vote margin in the Legislature is, among other things, too sweeping, too costly when it comes to the expenditure of taxpayer money and violates the Utah Constitution. This attempt to create a voucher program requires not only a tune-up, but a complete overhaul to make it worthy of voter support.
If you didn't vote already, don't forget to vote tomorrow.