Sunday, September 30, 2007

What does House Bill 148 say (Part 2)?

The next important section of House Bill 148 offers "definitions" and "guidelines" for eligibility to receive state-funded incentives to enroll in private schools. A few are obvious, and others are just placeholders. "Board" means the State Board of Education, but "eligible private school" is going to be defined by a section a little later, it reads. And what does "income eligibility guideline" mean? It's the "maximum annual income allowed to qualify for reduced price meal for the applicable household size as published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture by notice in the Federal Register." (!)

"Parent" means a real parent or a legal guardian, and "scholarship student" means "a student who receives a scholarship under this part."

But not really, right? Since we've already concluded that a scholarship is an award granted to a student who has reached a certain level of academic achievement and wants to continue his or her education, and that this program has nothing to do with academic achievement, then "scholarship student" is a phrase that doesn't even belong in this statute. So we'll respectfully replace it with "incentive-through-voucher recipient" and we'll continue to replace "scholarship" with the more-accurate phrase, "publicly-funded private-school voucher."

Finally, "tuition" means "amounts charged for attending a private school, excluding fees for extracurricular activities or transportation to the private school." Notice that "tuition" is not defined at the cost of academic instruction -- how we define "tuition" when we're looking at a college or university -- but rather the "amounts charged for attending a private school," with some exclusions.

Then the sponsors repeat their contention that this is a "scholarship program":

83 53A-1a-804. Scholarship program created -- Qualifications -- Application.
84 (1) The Parent Choice in Education Program is created to award scholarships to
85 students to attend a private school.

Notice that it doesn't say that this voucher program is created to give parents a financial incentive to withdraw their children from public schools and enroll them in private schools, but that's exactly what it appears to be.

Then we get to some very important language, spelling out who qualifies for the public-funded private-school vouchers. These are the only criteria for qualification:

ONE: The student's custodial parent or legal guardian has to live inside Utah. So if wealthy, divorced parents living just across the border and paying for their child's attendance at a private school in that state now want to send their child to a private school in Utah because the child's tuition will be subsidized by taxpayers, then they only have to arrange for joint custody and move one parent to a legal address inside the Utah border.

TWO: A child has to be five years old before September 2, or under 19 years old on the last day of the private-school's school year, in the year that his or her parents want to enroll him or her in the private school. But if the student hasn't graduated but will be under 22 years old on the last day of his senior year at the private school, then he still qualifies for the voucher. (This seems strange to me. Either the cut-off age is 19 or 22, so why says it's both?)

THREE: At least ONE, but not necessarily more than ONE, of the following four statements has to be true:
A: The student was born after September 1, 2001
B: The student was enrolled full-time in a Utah public school on January 1 of this year.
C: The student was NOT a resident of Utah on January 1 of this year.
D: The student's parents reported income "less than or equal to 100% of the income eligibility guideline" in the calendar year before they request the voucher.

[So a student under 22 years old, who has always attended private schools in Colorado and moved to Utah after January 1 this year, and who hasn't yet graduated, would instantly qualify, regardless of his parents' incomes.]

[Or, a student enrolled in kindergarten this year on January 1, and attending first grade in a public school today, would qualify for a voucher to begin second grade in private school next year.]

[Or, a divorced mother living in Utah with custody of her student, whose earnings qualify the student for reduced-price lunch in public schools, would qualify for the voucher regardless of the father's income, even if the father was a multi-millionaire.]

[If I have misinterpreted and misapplied these four criteria in my examples, I welcome correction.]

And FOUR: The student couldn't have received a Carson Smith (Voucher) for Students with Special Needs. So, does this mean that only children who don't have disabilities can receive one of these public-funded private-school vouchers under House Bill 148? That certainly would ease the burden on some private schools to turn away the parents of children with disabilities. It's a good thing that public schools accept those children.

Under House Bill 148, a parent will have to apply for a voucher by June 1 for the next school year, and will have to supply documentation to the State Board of Education verifying their income. (But the Board can waive the deadline, so it's possible that a parent can apply for the voucher at any time during the year.) And the Board will announce by July 1 which parents will get the public-funded private-school vouchers for the coming school year.

The next part is so strange, when you think about all the services that public schools are accountable to offer under state and federal law, and the accreditation that public schools are accountable to earn and maintain under state and federal law. When a parent applies for the voucher under House Bill 148, he or she has to sign a statement saying:

113 "I acknowledge that:
114 (1) A private school may not provide the same level of services that are provided in a
115 public school.
116 (2) The private school in which I have chosen to enroll my child has disclosed to me
117 the teaching credentials of the school's teachers and the school's accreditation status.
118 (3) I will assume full financial responsibility for the education of my scholarship
119 student if I accept this scholarship.
120 (4) Acceptance of this scholarship has the same effect as a parental refusal to consent
121 to services pursuant to Section 614(a)(1) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20
122 U.S.C. Sec. 1400 et seq."

In essence, the law requires a parent to say,
ONE, I declare that a lower standard of service than the services provided by public schools under state and federal laws will be acceptable to me, in order to receive a voucher; and

TWO, the private school where I want to enroll my student may have told me that none of its teachers hold the same minimum level of education credentials or certifications that are held by all teachers in public schools under state and federal law, but I will accept that in order to receive a voucher; and the private school may have notified me that it doesn't hold the same minimum accreditation that public schools are accountable for maintaining in Utah and our region of the nation -- if it holds anything labeled "accreditation" at all -- but I will accept that in order to receive a voucher; and

THREE, I acknowledge that the value of this voucher may be far less than the actual tuition required by the private school where I will enroll my student, and I accept that I will be financially liable for the difference, however small or great, and for the cost of expenses not included in the school's tuition, and for the cost of transportation to and from the school; and

FOUR, I acknowledge that by accepting these conditions and this voucher, I waive my rights and my child's rights to the services guaranteed by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and provided in public schools.

That's a lot to accept, acknowledge and declare, but that's exactly what House Bill 148 will require.

And, finally, if a parent decides for any reason that one private school is insufficient, they can re-enroll their student in another private school and not lose any of the voucher value.

That's enough for this section of the statute. In another note I'll look at what defines an "eligible private school."

When is an entitlement not an entitlement?

Blogger Kenneth Cole raised a great issue in his post at Republican Wondering on Friday. If I could turn it into a question, it would be: When is an entitlement not an entitlement? And I would offer an answer -- at the end of this note. Mr. Cole writes about growing up in Kansas, another deep-red state, when it was being governed by "common-sense, rational people who were very conservative with tax dollars" but who weren't blinded by a "social agenda." At about the time he left Kansas, he writes here (, a different regime took control of the Republican Party there. He explains,

Shortly before I moved away, the state Republican party took a hard-right turn. It was taken over by zealots whose first - and only - issue was banning all abortions. For a while it seemed the fiscal and the social conservatives could get along. But that didn't last.

Today I see too many extremes in the Republican party at the state level. From Virginia - where Republicans wanted to allow teachers to carry guns to Utah - where hard edge Republicans voted for a private school voucher law - it just seems everyone on our side of the aisle has lost sight of the "middle."

And they've even lost sight of common sense. Take Utah, for example. From what I've read, their private school voucher program would ENTITLE all parents to have a voucher. Eventually all kids in private school would be state-subsidized. What kind of rational thinking is that?

It's the rational that's been lost.

I agree with Mr. Cole. There seems to be no connection between today's debate on the House Bill 148 voucher referendum and the traditional fiscal conservatism that brought rational Republicans to their majority in government. The wisdom in charge today is hardly Republican at all, which is likely why moderate Republicans -- still rational Republicans -- either aren't talking about this universal voucher program or haven't joined the side of its sponsors. In fact, in thinking through Mr. Cole's perspective, something else just occurred to me. In one of my internet searches I saw a press release explaining why the state Libertarian Party was now endorsing Referendum 1, and blogger Mata Hari has referred to it too, here ( I didn't think of it before, but it makes sense now, thanks to Mr. Cole's comments. See:

There is too much emphasis on the social issues, too much emphasis that ALL Republicans should be against funding even basic operations of government. (Even Republicans expect government to maintain roads, law and order, and public schools.)

Government, it seems to me, is the art of compromise. One can't compromise when one won't budge from hardened positions.

This referendum doesn't really reflect Republican principles at all, but it certainly reflects Libertarian principles. Which offers an answer to the question that Mr. Cole's post raised for me: When is an entitlement not an entitlement?

It's not an entitlement when it uses public dollars to further an ideology to eliminate government altogether. And that's a classic Libertarian philosophy.

Who runs Orientation for PCE's visitors?

In the middle of a debate that doesn't have many funny points, these two notes are pretty funny and deserve to be read again, whether or not you've already seen them.

First, from blogger Bill Keshlear here (

Megan Risbon, treasurer of the Utah Democratic Party, was up at SnowBird last weekend enjoying Oktoberfest when she decided to ride the tram up to Hidden Peak. One of the passengers struck up a conversation about vouchers with the other passengers. She seemed well-rehearsed: How dare a liberal, out-of-state, anti-voucher union come in and try to overturn a law enacted by Utah's very own Legislature and governor. She seemed appalled.

Megan had heard it all before and could not restrain herself. Her blood began to boil. Megan told the group, then jammed together hundreds of feet above the ground in a tram swaying back and forth, that a good chunk of that NEA money comes from Utah - donated by thousands of Utah educators who contribute to a national fund to defend local public schools everywhere in the U.S. from wealthy out-of-state conservatives and their secretive hirelings who would come in and tinker with our schools yet won't even identify themselves.

"Who pays your way to come to Utah and campaign for vouchers?" Megan demanded. The twentysomething pro-voucher activist replied in huff, "You don't need to know!"

The young woman did let on that she was from California, but that could have been apparent to anyone. She was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. It was snowing on top of Hidden Peak.

And this one from Bob Aagard here (

A week ago, I informed you that Jeffrey Isbell was coming to Utah to blog in favor of vouchers. He even talked about it on his blog, until he took the post down. He has also removed several comments left by myself and others trying to get in contact with him.

If you see him around town, call the tip line. 759-1080.

I haven't looked lately for more information on young Mr. Isbell, but I posted a good bit on his planned trip to Utah here ( Today's September 30, so he should be somewhere in Utah by now, getting his in-state blog operation up and running. Hope his travels went well.

I wonder if he was allowed inside the Council for National Policy's meeting on Friday, to meet his "homeboy"? (Sorry, but I'm looking for any little bit of levity I can find in these circumstances, and Mitt Romney is, after all, Mr. Isbell's "homeboy.")

Who's sending cash through MO to Utah?

I don't know what to make of this story from California this week, except that it tells Utah voters that one more wealthy ideologue from someplace far from Utah knows best what to do about education in Utah.

The story was in the Los Angeles Times. Someone tried to get a referendum on the ballot to split up California's presidential electoral votes. Apparently they couldn't find a lot of people to donate money to pay for the cause. Only one donor gave any money, but he or she gave $175,000 at once.

And guess how the mystery donor gave the money: Through a mysterious company called "TIA Take Initiative America," created just one day before the donation was received and funneled to the California campaign.

The whole story from Friday's paper is here (,1,5758379.story?coll=la-news-politics-national&ctrack=3&cset=true) but here are the two things I got from it.

One, the man who invented the overnight money-funneling company plans to send more of the money to Utah. He said so through his spokesman, a political consultant.

And two, this money-funneling (is that related money-laundering, or have I been watching too many crime dramas?) from unknown wealthy donors through corporations to the House Bill 148 voucher campaign is the same process that has already brought $358,000 to it. As Bob Bernick said in the DesNews, we know that teachers from Utah and across the country are funding the anti-voucher campaign, but we don't know who's pouring the money into the pro-voucher side.

What's funny about this California story is that the man running it, a lawyer named Thomas Hiltachk, wanted TIA Take Initiative America to publicly disclose who had sent the money to his campaign in California. But TIA TIA's founder, Charles Hurth III, wouldn't do it. So Hiltachk quit the whole effort altogether.

The campaign received only one sizable donation -- $175,000. That is less than one-tenth of the $2 million typically needed to gather sufficient signatures to qualify a measure for the California ballot.

The donation arrived on Sept. 11, one day after Missouri attorney Charles A. Hurth III created a company called TIA Take Initiative America that served as the vehicle for the donation. But the individual donors to the organization were not known.

Hiltachk said he had demanded that "Take Initiative America fully disclose the source of its funds," and said he was assured it would make such a disclosure soon.

"Nonetheless," Hiltachk said, "I am deeply troubled by their failure to disclose prior to my demand and by their failure to disclose to me or to our committee that Take Initiative America had been formed just one day prior to making the contribution. . . .

"I am not willing to proceed under such circumstances," Hiltachk said. "Therefore, I am resigning my role in this campaign."

Eckery added: "There's no reason to be cute on campaign contributions. We had nothing to hide, and the public has every right to know."

Eckery said the campaign would keep the money; it has been used to pay signature gatherers and other costs.

If he hasn't already funneled money into Utah, Charles Hurth III plans to do it through his new company, he says:

Hurth did not return repeated calls seeking comment. His spokesman, Republican consultant Jonathan Wilcox, would not say who provided the $175,000. Wilcox said the group was planning to donate to other conservative causes around the country, including one in Utah to create school vouchers.

Donors commonly establish entities such as nonprofit corporations to raise money for political campaigns. In at least some instances, donors to such organizations are able to hide their identities.

"I'm not authorized by my clients to speak with the media just yet," Cleta Mitchell, a Washington attorney representing the group, said in an e-mail.

So Hurth is a lawyer from Missouri. Who would use a Missouri lawyer to send $175,000 anonymously to a ballot initiative campaign in California? Rex Sinquefield? I just wondered two weeks ago whether Mr. Sinquefield was behind part or all of the $358,000 that has come into Utah to push vouchers. So, does Mr. Sinquefield and his Show-Me Institute have a connection to Mr. Hurth? Or is Mr. Hurth representing someone else?

When did we adopt the Soviets' secrecy?

In the old days, it used to be true that if you told all the people all the truth, you were seen as an honest person and you could be trusted. And voters would elect you, listen to what you had to say, weigh your ideas even-handedly, and usually vote to keep you in positions of authority as long as you were willing and able to serve there.

But more and more, it seems to be an article of faith among a category of modern politicians that if you tell the least truth possible, to the fewest people, and you shut out the public from hearing what you say and knowing what you know, then you can box up those old sentiments of honesty and trust, pack them away, and still hold onto whatever power you have.

Who, or what, is the Council for National Policy? We don't know. Should we know, in the interest of being informed voters? In America, where freedom is more treasured than anywhere else on Earth?

Here's part of what Trib wrote about it yesterday, here (

Vice President Dick Cheney and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addressed some of the most influential leaders of the conservative movement Friday in Salt Lake City, but their speeches, like the group itself, remain cloaked in secrecy. Members are told not to discuss the group, reveal the topics discussed in the closed-door meetings, or even say whether or not they are members of the organization.

"You're not supposed to be here," said a grinning Foster Friess, who was pleasant but steadfast in his unwillingness to talk about the group.

An attempted interview with Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum, was interrupted when a volunteer stepped in front of Schlafly and advised her she didn't have to talk to reporters and guided the conservative matriarch by the arm to her next event.

Should I, or should I not, subscribe to the view of the DailyKos website, that this Council is made up of the "Sith Lords of the Ultra-Right"? If I'm a voter and the group doesn't tell me anything, or doesn't want me to know what it says or does, what am I to believe? And should I, or should I not, subscribe to Wayne Holland's view that "policy is influenced in this country by what amounts to a secret society of far-right-wing conservatives and religious extremists."

The Trib's reporter Robert Gehrke could only get this much from the group:

Members of the group say they are not a shadowy cabal but concerned Americans engaging in frank policy discussions, made possible by the secrecy.

A confidential copy of the agenda, obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune, showed topics for presentations covering a range of conservative causes, including anti-union presentations, the future of the anti-abortion movement and trends in international terrorism.

Today, the council will hear from Herbert; Rep. Chris Cannon, who will discuss technology and commerce; and his brother, Deseret Morning News Editor Joe Cannon. Two sessions are also dedicated to Utah's voucher referendum, featuring Doug Holmes, chairman of Parents for Choice in Education, and Lyall Swim, director of operations for the Sutherland Institute.

Featured speakers and topics"Lessons Learned From Utah's School Choice Battle"
Doug Holmes, chairman, Parents for Choice in Education.

"The ABCs of Vouchers: Lessons From Utah's Fight for School Choice"
Lyall Swim, Sutherland Institute

"How Unions Are Affecting the Economy"
Rick Berman, founder of

"Update on the Battles for Worker Rights vs. Big Labor"
Trent England, Evergreen Freedom Foundation

"What is Endangered: Climate or Freedom?"
Va'clav Klaus, Czech Republic president

"How Conservatives Must Continue to Fight the Fairness Doctrine"
Stuart Epperson, Salem Communication Corp.

"The Next Generation of Conservatives"
Rev. Jonathan Falwell

"Resolved: The United States is Winning the War in Iraq"
Debaters: Richard Greco, Jr., Assistant Secretary of the Navy
and John Lenczowski, founder, Institute for World Politics

"Keeping Pro-Life in the Republican Platform"
Colleen Parro, director of the Republican National Coalition for Life

"Parents' Rights in Public Schools"
Mathew Staver, dean of Liberty University School of Law

Aside from Doug Holmes and Rev. Jerry Falwell's son, I don't recognize most of the names on the list of featured speakers, either. Who is Rick Berman of Who is Trent England of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation? Who is Stuart Epperson -- and why is he against fairness? And why was it necessary to bring Mathew Staver of the Liberty University School of Law to Utah, when Utah has its own schools of law?

But I guess these are all secrets, too. Shhh.

Would Utahns benefit from two series?

The more I think about it, if the Daily Herald is really interested in publishing a series that answers questions on Referendum 1, its editors could take a step in the right direction by looking at Bob Bernick's commentary on the issue, published Friday and found here (,5143,695213777,00.html). I know it's not likely that one paper will take notes from another, but in the interest of being fair, it might be a good idea.

I though Mr. Bernick did a fair job of capturing the present situation, and it was even humorous. "Kennedy, Pelosi and have nothing to do with the Utah voucher act, passed by the 2007 Legislature," he wrote.

They might as well say Osama bin Laden wants to take away parental choice (actually, he might, but he's not on the Utah ballot, either). And while Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. says he won't be a "poster boy" for either side, he's become one for pro-vouchers, since PCE uses the governor's picture in its TV ads. Huntsman did sign the bill but says he wants to stay out of this fight.

I liked, too, that Mr. Bernick took on the question of money in a fair and even-handed way. He wrote,

The NEA actually does have something to do with the November election, because it is funneling millions of dollars into the anti-voucher campaign. But at least we know that the NEA is doing this, and we have a pretty good idea where its PAC money is coming from — public school teachers across the nation who pay PAC dues into the national education group through their local teacher union chapters.

We don't know where all of the money that Parents for Choice in Education is coming from. As reported in last Sunday's Deseret Morning News, the PCE's own PIC and PAC get some funds from the same group's corporation and nonprofit foundation. We do know, from years gone by, that PCE has gotten a lot of out-of-state money (just like the Utah Education Association has gotten a lot of out-of-state money from the NEA) from individuals and groups that back private-school vouchers.

Just as importantly, he addresses the money inside House Bill 148:

I learned from reading the pamphlet that a family of eight making $150,000 a year can still get $1,000 per student in tuition vouchers. And you can get the voucher until you are 21, giving you three extra years to graduate from high school. So, assuming you had kids ranging in ages from 5 to 20, you could get $6,000 to send all your kids to private school, even if you make $150,000 a year.

You know, if the Democrats proposed such a social program, one would think that the Republicans would scream. Why in the world are we giving $6,000 toward a private education for a family making $150,000 a year when we are already taxing Utahns thousands of dollars for a public education?

And he hits one of my peeves dead-on when he points out that House Bill 148 tells schools to lie to the state Department of Education for five years, keeping a student on the rolls after the student has left to enroll in a voucher school.

I understand why the sponsors would include this part. It dampens any criticism that public schools will lose funding if House Bill 148 is passed. But there are two very important facts that we can't ignore: After five years, all of that "free" money goes away, taking a public school right back to where it is today: accountable for producing bumper crops every year without sufficient water, sunlight and fertile soil.

If Mr. Bernick reads weblogs, I hope he reads this one. And if the Daily Herald is going to produce a series of editorials that look and feel like news articles on its front page, I hope Mr. Bernick will consider publishing a series too. I suspect one of them will be less editorial than the other.

Why call it journalism anymore?

The Daily Herald today promised to publish a series answering the important questions about Referendum 1, then made it clear that the series will be pro-voucher. I'm disappointed not because the Herald's editors have come out as pro-voucher but because they're playing both sides of the fence: pretending to be neutral and objective journalists serving an important role as investigators and public servants, but telegraphing their pre-determined conclusions in every-other paragraph.

Here are some examples of this ping-pong, here (

Neutral and objective: "Referendum 1 can win, but its backers will have to explain its advantages in clear terms."

Predetermined conclusions: "They have the philosophical high ground, with better arguments across the board than the public school lobby. But the opposition, heavily funded by organized labor, has been at work muddying the water with dubious claims and unsupported scare tactics. A strong turnout by special interests could be enough to kill vouchers."

Neutral and objective: "Would vouchers really drain the best students out of public schools, leaving only the most difficult cases, as opponents charge? Or would vouchers help students achieve their greatest potential? Do parents have a right to decide what is best for their children?"

Predetermined conclusions: "We believe that if voters will take a small amount of time to look at the issues, they will agree that vouchers are a terrific idea that will help individual students and the public school system alike. Rather than draining resources from the public system, vouchers will draw students out of overcrowded classrooms while leaving money behind to make things better. Vouchers will spark genuine free-market competition that will inspire public schools to improve. Perhaps most important, vouchers offer Utahns a no-lose proposition. If private schools perform as expected, the state will benefit. If the schools fail, they won't last, and any problems will disappear with them."

Neutral and objective: "From today until the vote on Nov. 6, the Daily Herald will focus on answering such questions. We hope you'll explore this issue with us..."

Predetermined conclusions: "...and that you'll be encouraged to go out and teach your friends and neighbors why they, too, should vote 'Yes' on Referendum 1."

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Does Evergreen have members in Utah?

I will get back to my line-by-line reading of House Bill 148 shortly. But first, I continue to be amazed at the reach that this voucher referendum has across the nation. In my opinion, the explanation for this reach is money. As I've written, the history of money from Michigan to get a voucher plan adopted in Utah began several years ago, and now Utah -- especially radio and television stations -- are benefiting from a mighty river of money coming in from all over the country. At least the economy is getting some good from this issue. But I also think the money is drawing all sorts of opinion-writers. Why else would a man from Olympia, Washington, be published in today's Daily Herald?

And who is next? Opinion-writers from Toronto? Tijuana? Miami? Why not? There are still six weeks left until Election Day.

I'd never seen Ryan Harriman's name in the papers before, so I looked up his organization, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation. Its own website says a lot of nice things about it, which you might imagine. Wikipedia ( says it's a "private, non-profit public policy think tank, based in Olympia, Washington, founded by Bob Williams, a former state legislator." Its mission sounds good: "to advance individual liberty, free enterprise, and responsible government." But then you see something familiar, if you've been keeping up with who's been funding the voucher debate in Utah.

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation neither solicits nor accepts funds from public sources. All programs and activities are funded by private donations and grants. Its support comes from thousands of concerned individuals and numerous private foundations.

"Private donations and grants"? "Thousands of concerned individuals"? Maybe I've been reading too much, but it sounds a lot like Parents for Choice in Education. Which makes me wonder if the "thousands" is more like "tens" or "dozens."

There's more at the Center for Media and Democracy (

Evergreen Freedom Foundation's beginning mission was to try to curb the Washington Education Association's (WEA) use of dues for political purposes. Much of Evergreen Freedom Foundation's work -- and its subsequent expenses and its fundraising – is tied to legal complaints in the courts and in Washington state’s Public Disclosure Commission. Evergreen carries on an agenda driven by its president, former Republican state legislator Bob Williams – an unsuccessful gubernatorial and congressional candidate -- and executed by Evergreen’s staff of active Republican political operatives and insiders.

During Dino Rossi's failed attempt to gain the Washington State governorship through a court challenge to the recount process, Evergreen Freedom Foundation provided strong ideological support. They pushed a "Voter Integrity Project" which focused on requiring voter ID to prevent voter fraud and started a "Grassroots Washington" group to make this seem like a public agenda. Voter fraud was never alleged in the recount case and the case was dismissed with prejudice .

So there's another connection. Mr. Harriman's employer is used to doing battle with teachers, so it makes sense that Utah has gotten his attention. And there certainly has been a big effort to make the pro-voucher organization look like a "grassroots" organization just out to promote the "public agenda."

I just have to shake my head, really, knowing that what's going on up and down the Wasatch Front right now has gone on in so many other places and was imported.

The best (or worst?) information about Mr. Harriman's group comes from Media Transparency here (

POSTED FEBRUARY 15, 2002 --When is a think tank not a think tank? In the case of the Olympia, Washington based Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF), it’s when a group that purports to be public interest policy organization turns out to be a private interest law firm for a few contributors.

Evergreen, which enjoys 501 (c) (3) nonprofit tax status, claims in its literature and on its web site to be a "public policy research organization" – a local think tank claiming support from some 2,500 donors. On it tax returns, Evergreen describes its mission as "educational research and analysis." Newsletters and fundraising mail tout Evergreen’s advice to Washington state legislators on budget and tax issues, reducing growth management regulations, and privatizing public services, including schools. The tidy mission of a public policy group, however, is merely Evergreen’s public face.

In truth, Evergreen has built its revenue base and committed much of its expenses on a seven-year public relations and legal campaign to curb the Washington Education Association’s (WEA) use of dues for political purposes – the country’s most sustained and targeted "paycheck protection" campaign. Much of Evergreen’s work -- and its subsequent expenses and its fundraising – is tied to legal complaints in the courts and in Washington state’s Public Disclosure Commission.

When will this nasty business stop? When will these people leave Utah and go back to where they came from, and take their tactics with them?

The Washington Supreme Court ultimately discovered about the Evergreen Freedom Foundation what I and a lot of other folks have discovered about Parents for Choice in Education.

All the legal activity gave Washington State Supreme Court Justice Philip A. Talmadge reason to wonder why Evergreen spent such energy getting to the bottom of WEA’s finances – and why the public knows so little about who finances Evergreen’s activities. In a May 2000 opinion in a case initiated by Evergreen against WEA, he said:

"... We know nothing about the EFF. It chooses to utilize the courts for what may be a political agenda, and yet we know nothing regarding the individuals or organizations who make up the EFF or provide financial support to it. Perhaps a healthy dose of 'public disclosure' so vigorously sought by these organizations would be usefully applied to their own activities as well, so the public will know who supports and funds them when they purport to be acting in the public interest."

The response to Judge Talmadge’s musings? It does not come from Evergreen or from Evergreen President Bob Williams, who demurs when asked about donors and who notes that the identities of contributors are protected by non-profit laws. The truth is that almost half of Evergreen’s funding between 1996-1999 came from just 11 donors, who gave a total of $1,713,097. In 2000, just a dozen donors provided a full 52 percent of Evergreen’s money. Despite claims of 2,500 smaller donors supporting its work, the bulk of Evergreen’s work is being financed by large contributors; with many large gifts come from conservative foundations.

In fact, foundation tax records show that more than one-third of Evergreen’s support comes from out-of-state foundations -- most of them financed by advocates of anti-public education efforts, including school vouchers, or anti-labor activity including "paycheck protection." Several Evergreen contributors have strong ties to the State Policy Network, the national string of smaller think tanks that promote conservative agendas in their respective states. Evergreen is a SPN member and Evergreen President Bob Williams is on the SPN President’s Advisory Council.

While Evergreen receives a modest amount of foundation support from within the state – the conservative M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust appearing to be its largest Washington state foundation contributor – the list of out-of-state contributors to EFF reads like a "who’s who" in the national voucher and anti-labor movements. Foundation contributors include:

The Walton Family Foundation, run by heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune. The foundation, which takes many of its giving cues from national voucher advocate and "paycheck protection" contributor John Walton, gave Evergreen $300,000 from 1998 through 2000. Walton has been a generous supporter of voucher and tuition tax credit legislative, advocacy and political efforts: he gave more than $2 million alone to the failed 2000 Michigan voucher initiative.

The Indianapolis-based Milton and Rose Friedman, founded by leading national voucher advocate Milton Friedman – critical of teacher’s unions for blocking school "reforms" like vouchers. The Friedman foundation gave Evergreen a total of $250,000 in 1997 and 1999. Foundation board members include J. Patrick Rooney, another national voucher advocate who also co-chaired the failed California Proposition 226 "paycheck protection" campaign in 1998. The Friedman foundation counts on part of its revenues from other Evergreen financial supporters, including the Walton, Sarah Scaife and Jacquelin Hume foundations.

The Sarah Scaife Foundation in Pittsburgh, Pa., controlled by national conservative figure Richard M. Scaife. The foundation gave Evergreen $150,000 from 1998 through 2000. Scaife, a leader in the national conservative movement, contributed $50,000 to California’s Prop 226 campaign and supports local and national voucher efforts, as well as conservative legal, policy and advocacy groups.

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a leading financial supporter of the Milwaukee voucher program and controversial contributor to far-right causes. The Bradley foundation gave Evergreen $105,000 from 1998 through 2000 – all three grants committed to the "Teachers Paycheck Protection Project initiative to prevent the Washington Education Association from using compulsory dues to support political causes." Projects backed by the foundation have included support for author Charles Murray for "The Bell Curve," the scientific racist book that claimed blacks are genetically intellectually inferior to other races.

The Roe Foundation, founded by the late Thomas Roe, a prominent Heritage Foundation supporter and co-founder of the State Policy Network. The Roe Foundation, which has directed millions to state-based think tanks aligned with the State Policy Network, gave Evergreen $85,000 from 1998 through 2000. Former SPN President Byron Lamm is on the Roe board, along with Heritage Foundation President Edwin Feulner.

Foundation for Partnerships Trust, funded and run by William Edgerly, CEO emeritus of State Street Bank and Trust of Boston. The foundation gave Evergreen a total of $70,000 in 1998 and 1999; at the time of the grant, Edgerly was chairman of Advantage Schools, a for-profit school operator run by former Pioneer Institute executive director Steve Wilson that clashed with the Massachusetts Education Association over operation of schools in the state. Edgerly is on the board of the Pioneer Institute, a Massachusetts member of the State Policy Network.

The Gilder Foundation, run by New York stockbroker Richard Gilder. The foundation, which supports conservative think tanks and voucher groups, gave Evergreen $25,000 in 1999. Richard Gilder has been on the board of advisers for the national voucher advocacy group CEO America, and pumped financial support into the unsuccessful Michigan voucher initiative and $25,000 in the 1998 "paycheck protection" initiative in California.

Jacquelin Hume Foundation of San Francisco, run by survivors of longtime California Reagan advisor Jacquelin Hume, including William Hume. The foundation gave Evergreen $23,995 in 1999, and supports conservative think tanks and advocacy groups, including anti-labor legal groups. In 2000, the Hume group contributed $110,000 to the Association of American Educators (AAE), a national group that markets itself as an alternative to teacher’s unions. One of Evergreen’s latest projects is promoting the AAE affiliate in Washington state as the "voice" for teachers in the state.

Mr. Harriman's organization sounds like a bigger carbon copy of PCE. So, given his agenda, and given who pays his salary, and given their previous targets, it's no wonder that Mr. Harriman attacked Utah teachers (and teachers from elsewhere who are supporting their Utah colleagues) -- and the parents, too, who support their children's teachers -- in his Daily Herald guest commentary. He saves the hardest part of his attack for the NEA, the national teachers organization, and he seems to be angry most because it and its members -- and the parents who support them -- have succeeded at blocking ideas like the Utah voucher plan in a lot of other places. He cites their successes in

...California... to oppose Proposition 38, which would have created vouchers.

...Michigan... in a successful campaign to oppose a voucher amendment.

...New Jersey... that expanded and solidified the anti-voucher effort in the state.

...Colorado... helped the state unions defeat three voucher bills...

...Wisconsin... to oppose legislation expanding charter schools, vouchers, tax credits, and other "choice schemes."

He might as well have written that everywhere that parents and educators have successfully worked together, they have defeated plans to give public money to private schools without holding those schools accountable for it. But that's not what he writes at all. He writes,

But isn't this supposed to be about the kids?

And it certainly is. It makes me wonder whether Mr. Harriman has ever enrolled his children in Utah's public schools. Since he lives in Olympia, Washington, I doubt it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

So, what does House Bill 148 say?

I have written several times that Utah voters would benefit tremendously from a step-by-step look at House Bill 148, the voucher plan that's actually on the November ballot. But no one in any corner has offered such a thing. One side of the voucher debate has, in fact, apparently decided that it would suffer damage to its cause if the bill was spelled out in plain English so the average voter could read it and think about it. Instead, we've heard plenty of talk about the idea of vouchers generally, as if there wasn't a real, genuine plan written in black-and-white that we could pick up and talk about, if someone would just bring it out.

Well, rather than leaving it to sit in the dark, I'd like to bring it out. Mind you, I don't pretend to be a lawyer or a lawmaker. But if the average reader can't look at the words and figure out what they mean, then maybe that's part of the problem. Maybe the plan needs to go back to the drawing board for revisions. Maybe it needs to go away altogether. Those are decisions to be made on November 6. In the meantime, here's one clear-eyed examination of the bill -- and the best first step is to call it what it is: a proposal to use public funds to establish the first statewide voucher system in America.

I found the bill on the internet, where anyone else can find it too:

And, before anyone gets caught up in the argument that House Bill 174 cleans up or corrects House Bill 148 -- so it's unfair to read House Bill 148 without reading House Bill 174 at the same time -- I would remind them that House Bill 148 is on the November ballot. House Bill 174 is not. A case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and not even the Supreme Court put the second bill on the ballot. So the bill we're talking about is House Bill 148.

And the general description of the "enrolled" bill reads, plainly, "This bill creates a program to award scholarships to students to attend a private school."

First, the bill creates a brand-new state government program. Those who oppose expanding government will likely not support this plan.

Second, the description says this new program will award scholarships to students. I know what a scholarship is: It's an award given to students who reach a certain level of academic achievement and want to continue their education. Since we know this bill is not about giving awards to students who reach a certain level of academic achievement and want to continue their education, we may wonder why the men who wrote this law chose to begin by using misleading language.

Third, we know that this bill has nothing to do with awarding money to students who reach a certain level of academic achievement because of the last five words of the general description: "to attend a private school." The vouchers offered by this plan are not awards. They are, instead, incentives to leave one school, presumably a public school, and to enroll in a private school.

If this is a false conclusion, and if I have read the simple meaning of these plain English words, I would invite others to correct my reading of the sentence and to offer an alternative interpretation.

Beginning at line 10 -- the lines of the House Bill are numbered -- the authors of House Bill 148 offer what they call "highlighted provisions." Specifically, they write, this bill

11 This bill:
12 . specifies criteria for qualifying for a scholarship;
13 . specifies criteria for private schools to enroll scholarship students;
14 . specifies the amount, timing, and form of scholarship payments;
15 . requires the State Board of Education to make rules;
16 . gives the State Board of Education enforcement authority;
17 . requires the Legislature to annually appropriate money from the General Fund for
18 scholarship payments; and
19 . allows a school district to retain in enrollment a student that transfers to a private
20 school for a period of five years, with a deduction equal to the average scholarship
21 amount.

We've already concluded that the language of the bill is misleading and that these funds do not represent true "scholarships," so I will take the liberty of using the correct word -- "voucher(s)" -- where the authors have used the word "scholarship(s)." To continue using the misleading language is to make their use of the word legitimate.

Therefore, these "highlighted provisions" more accurately read,

11 This bill:
12 . specifies criteria for qualifying for a (voucher);
13 . specifies criteria for private schools to enroll (voucher) students;
14 . specifies the amount, timing, and form of (voucher) payments;
15 . requires the State Board of Education to make rules;
16 . gives the State Board of Education enforcement authority;
17 . requires the Legislature to annually appropriate money from the General Fund for
18 (voucher) payments; and
19 . allows a school district to retain in enrollment a student that transfers to a private
20 school for a period of five years, with a deduction equal to the average (voucher)
21 amount.

So this bill will explain who will qualify for a public-funded, private-school voucher and how; which private schools can qualify to receive a public-funded, private-school voucher, and how; and how much public funding will be given to private schools in the form of vouchers, and when.

It requires -- which is a very specific, and very strong word, one that is used sometimes but not used other times, depending on the subject -- the State Board of Education to make certain rules, and it gives the Board the authority to enforce its rules.

It requires -- again, the specific, strong word -- the Legislature to set aside money every year from the General Fund to pay for vouchers.

And it allows -- notice that the authors didn't use the specific, strong word "requires" but this time only "allows" -- a school district to lie to the state department of education about its actual enrollment figures. The plan lets a school include a student on its rolls for five whole years after the student has taken the public-funded incentive to leave public schools and has enrolled in a private school. Does any other provision of state law "allow" a public school to lie to the state department of education?

Again, I am reading the words of the bill and applying what an average person would say is the plain meaning of the words to find the most reasonable explanation of the bill. I invite others to correct my meaning if I'm wrong, and to offer their own interpretation of these words.

Next, the authors have written that

23 This bill appropriates:
24 . as an ongoing appropriation subject to future budget constraints, $100,000 from the
25 General Fund for fiscal year 2006-07 to the State Board of Education.

So the Legislature will be told to set aside an amount every year to pay for public-funded private-school vouchers from the General Fund, and the amount it was required to set aside for the 2006-07 fiscal year was $100,000. That seems a very small amount to cover all of the children that the bill says it will cover, even in the first year.

There's a bland section that indicates where this particular bit of law will fit into the state statutes, then it gets to the title of the bill, the "Parent Choice in Education Act." This title is followed by a part called the "findings and purpose," which may be legal jargon to mean that these are conclusions that the Legislature has drawn, without really being scientific or legal findings of fact, and to explain why the authors are writing this piece of law. I suppose this may help historians in the centuries to come to understand what was going through the minds of the authors at the moment. But I think it's strange that the "conclusions" drawn and opinions held by a few men, not really based on anything factual or substantive, are written into a law. It makes me wonder what else is written into Utah statutes that people really never noticed was there. The authors say that the "Legislature finds that:"

50 (1) parents are presumed best informed to make decisions for their children, including
51 the educational setting that will best serve their children's interests and educational needs;
52 (2) the establishment of this choice in education program is justified on the basis of
53 funding the educational needs of school-age children as determined by their parents;

If nothing else in the plan makes it clear that the grants of public funds to private schools are not true "scholarships" but are just diversions of public funds to private schools based on someone's political ideas, this section did. The entire plan is "justified," it says, on the basis of something that doesn't relate to a student's having reached a level of academic achievement. But the next part bears reading twice:

54 (3) school-age children are the primary beneficiaries of the choice in education
55 program authorized in this part, and any benefit to private schools, whether sectarian or secular,
56 is indirect and incidental;

Unless someone can explain this to me differently, I believe this was an attempt by the authors to get around Article X, Section 9 of the Utah Constitution, which reads,

Neither the state of Utah nor its political subdivisions may make any appropriation for the direct support of any school or educational institution controlled by any religious organization.

By claiming that the "primary beneficiaries" of the public-funded private-school vouchers are children, and that any benefit to "sectarian" "private schools" is "indirect and incidental," I believe the authors see the Constitutional conflict in their plan and hope to immunize themselves against a court ruling that vouchers are unconstitutional.

If there's another reason for this part of the "findings and purpose" to exist in House Bill 148, or if I've misinterpreted the plain English of the Constitution, I welcome hearing another explanation. I did write about this topic some weeks ago here ( and don't remember getting any different interpretations in feedback.

The "findings and purpose" goes on to say,

57 (4) the choice in education program authorized by this part is available to the parents of
58 school-age children, solely on the basis of income level for the year immediately preceding the
59 year for which a (voucher) is sought, and not on the basis of sex, race, religion, national
60 origin, or any other criteria; and

Again, it clearly has nothing to do with reaching a level of achievement. Instead, it clearly has to do with calculating parents' income and giving them a large enough incentive (up to a limit) out of public dollars to encourage them to leave public schools and enroll in private schools.

And finally, the "findings and purpose" declares that

61 (5) the choice in education program authorized in this part is:
62 (a) enacted for the valid secular purpose of tailoring a child's education to that child's
63 specific needs as determined by the parent;
64 (b) neutral with respect to religion; and
65 (c) limited in its assistance to a parent, who may choose to use the (voucher) to offset
66 tuition or fees charged by a private school, either sectarian or secular, in which enrollment of
67 the parent's child is sought, solely as a result of the parent's genuine and independent private
68 choices.

This language plainly sets out to suggest that parents currently have no control over their child's education, when all parents -- indeed, all citizens -- have absolute control, through the ballot box, over almost every aspect of children's education in public schools. To say otherwise is to deny the Constitutional rights of Utahns and all other Americans. Do we not have Constitutional rights to vote, to elect our representatives and to approve or disapprove their decisions? If we do, then to say that we don't is, again, misleading.

But I find another slippery phrase buried in this language pointed at parents: "may choose to use." Read it again with emphasis on that phrase:

65 (c) limited in its assistance to a parent, who may choose to use the (voucher) to offset
66 tuition or fees charged by a private school, either sectarian or secular, in which enrollment of
67 the parent's child is sought, solely as a result of the parent's genuine and independent private
68 choices.

"May choose" implies that the opposite is also true: "may choose not." If someone is not "required" -- the specific, strong word -- the use this public-funded private-school voucher to offset the tuition or fees charged by a private school, then how else "may" someone "choose" to use the public funds?

And how are the recipients -- whether the authors define that word as parents of school-age children or the private schools that cash the checks -- held accountable for the public dollars? Or is there no accountability "required" -- the specific, strong word -- at all?

Monday, September 24, 2007

What are others saying?

Last week, I found a couple of great, thoughtful posts from Tyler Slack and D. Sirmize at Desultory Thoughts, and I want to both give them credit and bring attention to their conclusions. I do this not because Tyler sent readers to my weblog, but because it's clear that both have taken the same route that I'm trying to take: looking at objective facts and weighing the data on both sides of the issue.

Tyler wrote on August 26, here (,

I’ve been meaning to write about my feelings on private school vouchers for quite some time now. This is a hot topic in Utah right now. I don’t want to bother with the history, although the history of the topic plays into the issue quite a bit so if you’d like to educate yourself on the topic, this blog [] is a good place to read up on it starting with this post and then read on from there.

My point is to clear up some of the misconceptions that people may have about vouchers. Some misconceptions come from what seem like very reasonable commercials that I originally thought were funded by an organization called “Parents for Choice in Education” or PCE for short. But while researching the commercials for this post I found out that they were produced by Crowell Advertising for a client who wants to remain anonymous.[source: Salt Lake Tribune]

The commercials (I’ve only heard radio spots so far but you’ll no doubt see TV spots as November comes closer) take a single talking point, competition for example, and speak to it in terms of why it will be a good thing to help the students of Utah. I only remember two of the commercials specifically so those are the ones I will speak to, but I hear there were four; now probably just three because one of the spots was pulled, which I was glad to hear.

The first one I heard talked about how vouchers will create competition and competition is a good thing for business, right? Anyone hearing these commercials would naturally agree on the point that competition is good for business so you pretty much get trapped into agreeing with the commercial. Pretty clever. In reality, competition when it comes to public schools in Utah wouldn’t really make them better. They’re already great! Perfect? Of course not…there is always room for improvement. But improvement for our public schools comes not from pumping public money into private schools. How exactly is that going to make our public schools better? One of the biggest complaints I have about our public schools is that our teachers don’t get paid enough for how important their job is. The way this commercial portrays competition just doesn’t apply when it comes to public schools vs. private schools. The ad is misleading.

As I talk to people about vouchers competition is one of the points they bring up the most. Their argument is valid until they start looking at the big picture and realize that it just doesn’t apply in this case. It’s like talking to people about how rain is so good for plants, something we can all agree on, and then trying to apply the argument to pavement. No, I’m not trying to liken public schools unto pavement, but you get the idea. Maybe I’ll come up with a better analogy later.

The other commercial that I remember was one that I was surprised by. It was the one that quoted 3 Nephi 6:12 [] from the Book of Mormon. I couldn’t believe anyone could get away with that, and apparently they couldn’t because this is the one that they stopped playing. It didn’t seem right for them to use holy scripture for political purposes; something that the LDS church does not condone or allow. Some may have been tricked into thinking that vouchers were the popular opinion among those that believe in or read the Book of Mormon. And why not tailor your propaganda to a large majority of the State of Utah? Another clever and logical, but very sneaky ploy.

The last misconception that I’ll speak to tonight is concerning Charter Schools. It may be news to many of you that Charter Schools are not Private Schools! Yes, that’s right. Charter Schools are in fact Public Schools! So if you thought that parents could apply for a voucher to get their children into the latest Charter School that just opened up down the street, it’s not going to fly. This is a misconception that many people have and if they realized that 96% of Utah children attend public schools they may look at the issue a little different.

I know this is a very controversial subject and I should have left this one up to guest blogger D. Sirmize who has the luxury of posting anonymously on this blog. I don’t have that luxury but I’m the one with the strong opinion on this topic. D. Sirmize is still surmising, but we’ve talked at length on the subject and I welcome his comments.

Certainly my strong involvement in the PTA influences my opinion, but not everyone in the PTA agrees on this issue either, but it is the official stance of PTA that vouchers are not good for ALL of the children of Utah. And how can it be when there isn’t even a private school in all of the counties of Utah?

To set the record straight, I am not against private schools. They’re just not held accountable to the standards of the Utah State Office of Education so in this issue I have to believe that they shouldn’t be getting public tax money since it’s not up to the public as to what is taught. Private schools, especially in the area of Special Education, serve a wonderful role to our children and make a remarkable difference, but that doesn’t mean they deserve our tax dollars in the form of vouchers.

I hope you'll click here ( to read the follow-up published by D. Sirmize on September 17, too. His note is just as thoughtful and deserves to be read.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Could Sinquefield be a secret PCE donor?

I was glad to see former Governor Olene Walker honored by Brigham Young University this week. She's still well-respected by a lot of people -- how many politicians earn an 87 percent approval rating, ever? -- and she deserved the honor. And I was also glad to read some of her comments at the BYU event in this morning's DesNews -- which gave good coverage to some parts of the voucher referendum issue in today's edition. The opening note by reporter Tad Walch told the story, I thought:

PROVO — Former Gov. Olene Walker doesn't want to be at the forefront of the election fight over school vouchers, but her thoughts on one element of the issue were crystal clear Thursday when she spoke at Brigham Young University as an honored alumnus.

"I think it's ironic the Legislature demands ever-increasing accountability of public schools but is willing to give the largest entitlement in the state to individuals without any accountability," she said.

Governor Walker, I've thought the same thing. In the spirit of fairness, I continue searching with an open mind for objective facts that would lead voters to support House Bill 148, the voucher plan on the November ballot, but it's slow going, and difficult. Rhetoric and ideology are available everywhere, but the folks promoting the voucher plan have made it a point to hide objective facts and keep them a secret until after November 6.

The DesNews also gave us another great example of that point this morning. Reporter Tiffany Erickson wrote, "The Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office says it will ask the Attorney General's Office to investigate an anonymous pro-voucher group that could be skirting election laws.

Officials in Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert's office said Wednesday they plan to file an investigation request with the Attorney General's Office today in regard to an entity that has failed to file a political issues committee report, which is a requirement under state law."

Those campaign reports were due on Monday -- I know, because I spent a good bit of time this week studying them on my screen. If someone knows enough to put together some political radio advertisements, it's a good bet they know enough to file their campaign reports on time, under the law. But that didn't happen in this case, Ms. Erickson explains here (,5143,695211709,00.html).

Joe Demma, spokesman for the Lieutenant Governor's Office, said that more than a month ago they received an inquiry from an advertising agency that was doing work for an anonymous pro-voucher individual, or group, on a Web site and for radio ads.

"We determined that this person was not acting on his own but was potentially part of group of people," Demma said. "Under law when more than one person engages in helping fund an effort, that person now becomes a group of people, and a group of people under the law has to file as a political issues committee."

He said the determination that the group should file as a PIC was based on the fact that the Web site was soliciting money by saying, "Please donate to the cause, every dime that you donate will go to supporting vouchers." So this anonymous person or group is soliciting and potentially receiving money, Demma said.

But if that is indeed the case, Demma said they are puzzled as to why the group would refuse to file a report.

"That's not a hard thing to do and generally not a big deal so we just were surprised that the entity refused to comply with state law — the reports were due Monday at 5 p.m., and we have yet to receive paperwork from that group — we don't know if that is what they are, but the evidence suggests it potentially could be," Demma said.

Under state law it's a class B misdemeanor to miss the filing deadline, but Demma said historically if groups are a few days late his office would just send them a letter saying deadlines in the future must be met.

"If they continue to disregard official notice from the Lieutenant Governor's Office, that steps up the penalties, and the AG's office would have to take it from there," Demma said. "But we aren't being that dramatic right now, we're just going to file it and tell (the attorney general) there's enough evidence here that we think they potentially needed to (file.)"

I think the most important part of the story was Mr. Demma's conclusion that those behind the voucher ads are "a group of people." And from their perspective, Utahns don't have the right to know who they are.

Here's my own question -- not a conclusion, but a question: Is the group of people that Mr. Demma believes created these voucher ads, then aired them, then didn't file their campaign reports as the law requires, the same group of people who has contributed $358,000 through a corporation and a foundation, in order to avoid having to explain who they are, to pay for the activities of Parents for Choice in Education's political action committee?

I have another question. Since the donors are a secret, I guess it's safe to wonder who they might be. It's probably safe to assume they have a lot of money and they're willing to spend it to promote vouchers, and maybe it's safe to assume they have a vested interest in getting the voucher plan passed in Utah so it'll help them get one passed somewhere else.

At least some of Patrick Byrne's support isn't a secret. He gives a lot of money -- tens of thousands of dollars at a time -- to almost anyone who's capable of helping to get vouchers passed in Utah. But since he lives in Utah, I doubt think he's part of the $358,000 donor list. I wonder if it's specifically people in other states, whose work there would be hurt if it came out in public that they were pushing the voucher plan here.

I wonder all of this because a blogger in Missouri has been writing about something going on there, related to vouchers, related to a pro-voucher "institute," related to one super-wealthy pro-voucher donor, and related to All Children Matter of Michigan. Here are parts of a post in Missouri from last week, but the whole post can be found here (;jsessionid=5BB703475CE2670771023FCC1C93D066?diaryId=158):

The motto of school voucher advocates in Missouri must be, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again, because big money donors to state legislators who favor vouchers have already given more campaign contributions--fourteen months before the elections!--than they did in 2004 and 2006.

In 2004, $385,340 was donated. Last year, even though it was an off year election, contributions went up; pro-voucher candidates received $403,840. So far in this election cycle, $483,850 has already been given. Of course, a major reason the contributions are so high this cycle is that between January and June there were no caps on contributions.

Indeed, now that the Supreme Court has put the kibosh on that travesty, Jay Nixon is returning all his over-the-limit contributions. But the big honcho in the pro-voucher camp, Rex Sinquefield, filed a legal argument with the Supreme Court asking that none of his donations be returned to him. His brief, almost but not quite, said: I bought 'em fair and square. Okay, what he actually said was that his political groups gave money early in the cycle because that's when it helps the most, and he doesn't want it back. For whatever that argument is worth.

Which brings us to Sinquefield's two groups: All Children Matter and the infamous Show Me Institute.

All Children Matter exists in only ten states, and we're among the lucky ones to be targeted. Most of the money for it comes from out-of-state, with less than a third coming from actual Missourians. Make that Missourian, singular, as in Rex Sinquefield. Ninety-five percent of the in-state contributions come from him.

Here's a person who is very wealthy, who wants to see a voucher plan adopted by the legislature in Missouri, and who is willing to spend a lot of money to support pro-voucher candidates who will deliver such a plan. And he's connected to All Children Matter of Michigan, and he has a pro-voucher "institute" of his own -- the "Show Me Institute" -- to publish pro-voucher articles and "studies."

Does any of this sound familiar? I mentioned a little bit about this man last month, but maybe it's worth looking at him again, because he certainly would benefit in Missouri if Utah voters adopted the voucher plan in November. He could say to Missouri legislators, see, they already set the precedent in Utah, so why shouldn't we do the same?

So, could Rex Sinquefield of Missouri be pouring tens of thousands of dollars into the corporation and foundation that funds Parents for Choice in Education's political action committee? Could he be part of the "group of people" that Mr. Demma in the Lieutenant Governor's office mentioned in today's DesNews? Since we don't know who the secret donors are behind PCE Inc. and the PCE Foundation, it's certainly possible. And because he's closely connected to All Children Matter of Michigan, it would certainly make sense.

Another thing, before I leave today's edition of the DesNews. I found in it a short but powerful note from John Betts of West Valley City here (,5143,695211784,00.html). Mr. Betts has already made up his mind about the voucher plan and he offers two objective facts, which I appreciate:

Let's get two things perfectly clear. First, despite all the rhetoric designed to convince us otherwise, the school voucher issue is not about choice. The issue is whether or not tax monies should be used to support private, for profit schools. If you believe that is an appropriate use of your tax dollars, vote for vouchers. If you believe that is not an appropriate use of your tax dollars, vote against vouchers.

Second, those who send their children to private schools are not relieved of their responsibility to support the public school system any more than are those who do not have children, or whose children are either too young or too old to attend school.

And finally, my thanks to Jeremy Manning at Jeremy's Jeremiad, Bob Aagard at The World According to Me, and Marshall at the Wasatch Watcher for linking to some of my notes this week. I really appreciate it, and I hope you'll read more of them after following these links to Jeremy's Jeremiad (, The World According to Me ( and the Wasatch Watcher ( I read them, too.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What secret donors gave $358,000?

With the help of another great reader, I've finally found the finance report given by Parents for Choice in Education. It shows four donors from outside Utah -- two from California, one from Wyoming and one from Virginia -- who gave amount from $1,000 to $5,000 each, and it shows one big donor from Utah: Patrick Byrne, who gave $90,000. That was in addition to the $17,500 the PCE PAC received from PCE Incorporated. So that leaves us still not knowing who gave the $230,000 that was transferred through PCE Incorporated to the PCE PAC, and who contributed the $128,000 that flowed through the PCE Foundation to pay legal fees to Parr Waddoups. That's a total of $358,000 that came from someone (or more than one entity) who is hidden from public view.

As I said yesterday, if I had that kind of money and passion for vouchers, I'd be happy to let the world know who was helping bring a voucher plan to them.

I also found the filing from PCE's political issues committee - the PCE PIC - and I'm going to take a closer look at those next. At a glance, it looks like their largest expenditure was $86,000 or so to Summit Consulting Group of Phoenix, Arizona, for a phone bank. That may be the company that did those nasty push-polls for PCE last month. I'll check my stack of notes again for that.

Meanwhile, someone sent me a thoughtful commentary from Washington County School District superintendent Max Rose that was published yesterday in the Spectrum here ( "The recent debate about vouchers has gathered a lot of attention in our state," he writes. "The debate is over the prudence of using our tax money - in the form of a voucher - to support private schools"

Many voucher supporters argue that private schools are somehow academically superior to public schools. But in July 2006 the National Center for Education Statistics published a report that basically indicated that there were little or no differences between public and private schools in terms of students' reading and math scores in the fourth and eighth grades on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) after controlling for differences in ethnicity, income, parental education, absenteeism, etc. (U.S. Department of Education, report number NCES 20060461).

The difficulty that many of us have with vouchers is not the fear of losing students to private schools. (An examination of the voucher formula reveals it will probably only benefit those few families that can already afford private school tuition.) The concern about vouchers has to do with accountability.

All students in Utah public schools are subject to the accountability provisions of the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students (UPASS). Under UPASS students participate in assessments in math, language arts, and science at the end of each school year. In addition, students in the third, fifth and eighth grades participate in the nationally standardized Iowa Test of Basic Skills. All third-grade students are evaluated at the end of the year to determine if they are reading on grade level. Students in the 6th and 9th grades take the Direct Writing Assessment (DWA) each spring. Students in our high schools know that they will need to achieve a passing score of the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test (UBSCT) in order to receive a regular high school diploma.

All these measures, and more, are summarized into a UPASS School Report Card that is issued for every public school in Utah every year. Private schools have no such requirements. When publishing reports, private schools need not include scores of low performing groups - or they may choose not to report any results at all. Yet, our public schools are often compared with private schools based on scores. What scores? Did all the students participate? Public schools can answer these questions and stand ready to be accountable for the outcomes.

The UPASS accountability standards have been a great addition to public education in Utah. I believe it will allow us to continue to show that public education is a good investment. We can move forward if we use our resources wisely. Taking already scare educational funding and deluding it by issuing vouchers to private schools does not enhance accountability.

Aren't we all supposed to be interested in accountability?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Are no Utah college students interested?

On a personal note, I really appreciate the tips and links and documents I've been getting from readers. I didn't realize so many might be reading this -- of course I hoped some would -- but it's nice to have the information. What I'd love to see, knowing that there are so many other people asking the same kinds of questions I'm asking, is to see more people create a weblog and talk about it. Several weblogs in Utah are well-established and cover all sorts of political issues and activities, but I believe there's always room for more. And I've found that it's great exercise for the mind, too, not just figuring out how to use the HTML but also reading through what the media publishes and figuring out what really is important, and what isn't. Not to mention finding great resources in the internet for research.

One young man, Jeffrey Isbell (, is coming from several states away just to write a weblog for Parents for Choice in Education from the end of September through Election Day. He writes,

Well, folks, from September 30 through Election Day (November 6), I will be blogging from the "great" state of Utah. No, I'm not becoming a Mormon like my home boy Mitt Romney. No, I'm not going out for the skiing, I'd break more than a leg or two. So, what am I doing?

Jeffrey writes about his temporary assignment here ( He says he was "offered a position to go out there for 5 weeks or so and make sure the good voters of Utah vote in favor of this awesome thing."

So, from September 30 through November 6, I'll be there. I know, I'll be away from friends and family, but they are more than welcome to come out and visit me, It's only 20 hours driving or 3 hours on a flight one way.

I consider this a great offer and jumped on the band wagon officially today. I look forward to working with the great people of Parents of Choice in Education (PCE) and meeting the voters of Utah. You'll know about this in the coming days.

Jeffrey's decision to move to Utah to write PCE's blog for five weeks reminded me of something I saw floating around this weekend.

Weblogger Chris Arndt (, a serious fan of Star Trek (, a well-traveled young person ( who attends James Madison College at Michigan State University and works for the Michigan Republican Party, and who is earning his laptop computer by organizing conservative student groups ( for the "Leadership Institute" of Arlington, Virginia (, received an email from a group in Washington, D.C. called the Young America's Foundation (

That email included a job offer from Greg Graves of Gordian Strategies in Albequerque, New Mexico, last week. If Chris were not in his final semester of school, he writes, he might "pursue this cash opportunity."

The email from YAF to Chris reads here (,

A group needs campaign workers. Details are as follows:

The teacher's union in Utah is trying to outlaw vouchers and there is a conservative group that is leading a ballot initiative to stop them. They are paying a lot of money, plus the roundtrip flight and a food stipend. Any YAFers that are interested can contact the person below. Here is the info.

Managers for Utah voucher ballot initiative battle...
Your compensation will be as follows:
1. PCE will pay you $6000, $3000 on October 15th and $3000 on November 6th.
2. PCE will provide your lodging.
3. PCE will provide a food stipend of $25.00 per day. This stipend will be paid in two payments, $550.00 on September 23rd and $600.00 on October 15th.
4. PCE will provide for your transportation.
5. PCE will pay for your flight to and from Salt Lake City .

You will report to Salt Lake City on September 23rd and will leave on November 7th.

thanks for the help.
Greg Graves
430 Phoenix Avenue, NW
Albuquerque, NM 87107>

Are there no Utah college students willing to work for $6,000 for six weeks?

See, more questions.

Why keep the contributors a secret?

I still haven't found the contributions to Parents for Choice in Education listed online. In fact, the Utah Reporting System's page seemed to be down for part of this morning. (Maybe so many people are asking the same questions that it froze up!) But a great reader shared with me a photocopy of some documents filed on Monday, so at least I have those to mention. The strange thing is that they don't show who the contributors are. So they don't answer any questions, they just lead to more questions.

Like this: Did you know there's a Parents for Choice in Education, Incorporated? And there's a Parents for Choice in Education Foundation? That's in addition to the Parents for Choice in Education political action committee and the Parents for Choice in Education political issues committee. Why does one organization have so many different legal entities? I think I know the answer, but I'll save it for the end.

So PCE Incorporated, in its filing, shows only four expenditures made during 2007, two of them to PCE's PAC and two to PCE's PIC. The two fund transfers to the PAC came on January 22 ($15,000) and May 30 ($2,500), for a total of $17,500. The transfers to the PIC came on July 27 ($200,000) and September 12 ($30,000), for a total of $230,000. The financial officer listed for PCE Incorporated is Elisa Clements. I wonder if this is the same Elisa Clements who is the director of Parents for Choice in Education, the daughter of PCE's co-founder Jordan Clements?

PCE Foundation also shows only four expenditures this year, and all of them go to Parr Waddoups for "legal fees." The fund transfers were on May 31 ($23,982.55), June 30 ($12,814.02), July 27 ($55,789.99) and August 22 ($35,214.88), for a total of $127,801.44. That's a lot of legal fees for only four months' work. I noticed that something is missing, and maybe it will show up in the PCE PAC's online filing: the fees paid to Crapo Wood, the law firm that sent letters to district administrators last month warning them not to allow conversation about vouchers on their campuses without telling PCE first. If they were paid to do that, their payment wasn't reported here.

Oddly, the financial officer for the PCE Foundation is also Elisa Clements. And I noticed that the address for PCE, PCE Inc., and PCE Foundation is the same street address, even the same office number. If the same Elisa Clements is the director of PCE, and the financial officer for PCE Incorporated and PCE Foundation, does that mean all three PCE legal entities share the same desk and chair? If they only need one desk and chair, then why do they need so many legal entities.

I think this is the answer: If contributors give directly to PCE's PAC, it looks like the contributors would have to be identified by name. But if contributors give to PCE Inc., or the PCE Foundation, and those funds are then moved into the PCE PAC (and PCE PIC), then the contributors' names don't have to be reported to the public. So they're kept hidden. This answers my question from yesterday: Are there loopholes in the state campaign finance laws? It seems to be so: If people are able to funnel big sums of money through a corporation or foundation to the PAC (or PIC) to hide their activities, that's a pretty big loophole.

But it leads to one more question: If a person is willing to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the voucher cause in Utah, why hide that fact? If I had that kind of money and felt that passionate about giving it to support a political issue, I certainly wouldn't be afraid for people to know it. It leads me to one conclusion. It is possible that the identities of the contributors would cause embarrassment or political damage to to cause? For example, would it look bad if the major (or only) contributors to PCE's PAC were from, for example, Michigan?

We know where the bulk of the anti-voucher money is coming from: Thousands of educators in Utah and their supporters. That's public information. But based on these finance reports, we have no better sense today of where the pro-voucher money is coming from than we had last week. It's still a secret. And no one knows why.

There's one Utahn who gives large sums to support vouchers and doesn't hide it (at least, doesn't hide all of it). I also got a look at the filing by "Informed Voter Project," the operation mentioned in yesterday's Trib article. Sure enough, it's only contributor is Patrick Byrne, who gave $200,000 to IVP on August 7.

Paul Rolly tells us in this morning's Trib that one filing he was waiting to read wasn't filed at all. He writes here (

Sutherland Institute President Paul Mero might have you believe Brigham Young was a voucher supporter, but the apparently secret group touting Mormon scriptures in pro-voucher radio ads could soon be facing criminal charges. The Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office is requesting the attorney general investigate who is behind the series of ads urging Utahns to uphold the state's voucher law, with one of the ads reciting parts of the Book of Mormon to make its point.

But the actions of the anonymous group qualify it as a Political Issues Committee subject to finance reporting laws, says Joe Demma of the Lieutenant Governor's Office. That means the group was required to file a report by Monday, which it didn't do. The ads were placed on various radio stations by Crowell Advertising. But the agency has refused to identify the client.

Uh-oh. More secrecy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Are there loopholes in state finance laws?

One of the most amazing facts about the money being spent on the November voucher referendum was published in this morning's Trib but it wasn't inside the big story, it was at the very end of it:

If all the money spent on the referendum campaign so far went directly to the classroom, it would have:
* Paid to educate 380 Utah public school students;
* OR covered the annual costs of 17 average-sized classrooms;
* OR funded a year's education, with plenty left over, of all 310 students enrolled last year in the Piute School District.
* OR provided 1,143 private-school vouchers, with a mean value of $1,750.
Sources: The Utah Foundation, The State Office of Education, U.S. Department of Education, and campaign disclosures.

And we still can't afford to invest more in Utah's public schools.

This debate has national implications, all right. A lot of people outside Utah have a lot riding on the decisions that Utah voters will make on November 6. And it appears that the only upside is the boost to Utah's economy, particularly to the broadcast companies here.

Utah's school voucher referendum decision has escalated into a $2.6 million battle, with most of the cash being raised and spent by voucher opponents.

With less than two months before the referendum election Nov. 6, voucher supporters, led by Parents for Choice in Education, have spent more than $500,000 - $128,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to stop a citizens' referendum petition drive against the measure. The figures come from financial reports Monday to the Lieutenant Governor's Office. The money is going into a blitz of radio and television advertisements.

But there's something fishy going on, in my opinion. I haven't been able to look at the most recent finance filing yet -- they're not posted online at the Utah Reporting System yet -- but the Trib article says here ( that All Children Matter of Michigan isn't participating. I find that hard to believe, since the voucher plan was its plan from the beginning, and it has spent so much money to get the legislature to adopt it.

Absent from the fray, so far, is the national pro-voucher group All Children Matter, which spent $240,000 in Utah elections last year to elect legislators who favor vouchers. That national group reported spending "zero" on the Utah referendum.

Zero? Is that true? Or is there a way to spend outside money in Utah and not have to report it under state law? Is there a loophole?

I mean, it's obvious where the opposition is getting its support. The filings show that Utah teachers have called back a lot of contributions from their umbrella organization, NEA. The only mystery there is that Parents for Choice in Education have been saying for a while that they expected NEA to send $3 million or more into the debate, but NEA's actual contribution is half that amount. So where is All Children Matter? Is it just letting Patrick Byrne spend his money on its plan?

Absent from the fray, so far, is the national pro-voucher group All Children Matter, which spent $240,000 in Utah elections last year to elect legislators who favor vouchers. That national group reported spending "zero" on the Utah referendum.

A pivotal local contributor to the voucher effort is Utah entrepreneur Patrick Byrne. The founder and head of has pumped $290,000 into the "yes" effort. Byrne has single-handedly financed a Republican legislators' PAC, Informed Voter Project, with a $200,000 donation.

I'll tell you this: If I had $290,000 of ready cash to spend however I wanted, I don't think I'd create a political action committee with it.

Come to think of it, how many other individual Utahns have contributed $290,000 on either side of the voucher debate? What about $29,000? Probably only a handful, like PCE's founders and Rick Koerber. What about $290? Or $29? I suspect there are hundreds or thousands who have kicked in something in the neighborhood of $29, and I suspect we know which argument they support in the debate, compared to the handful of deep-pocketed businessmen who are supporting a different argument. But I won't know for certain until the finance filings are online. I'll keep my eyes open.