Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What happened to the 'truth test'?

I recently asked here ( whether KSL reporter Richard Piatt's blatant errors in his "true-or-false" voucher report were intentional, since Parents for Choice in Education had taken the report to use in its mail to voters. PCE's flyer used Mr. Piatt's comments and his graphics, which are pretty dramatic. Unfortunately, several bloggers have shown that they're pretty wrong, too.

Last night, someone calling himself "Rich's buddy" left a comment on my blog that read,

Piatt isn't a voucher hack. He simply made a mistake.

I bet even he would admit it to friends, in fact, he did.

I wrote a response to that note:

To Rich's buddy,

I appreciate very much that Mr. Piatt told his friend that he made a mistake. I don't doubt what you say, and I appreciate that you said it to me.

But Mr. Piatt, whom I don't know, is a public figure and, moreover, a journalist, which means his job is to inform the public on matters in their interest. At the moment, there are only three items in the public record reflecting Mr. Piatt's journalism on the voucher issue. One is the KSL report, whose errors I described in some detail; the second is his published comment to Bill Keshlear, stating clearly and unequivocally that Mr. Piatt stands by his original report; and the third is the mail from Parents for Choice in Education, repeating in black-and-white what Mr. Piatt said on KSL, and using the graphics that Mr. Piatt used in his report.

We now have fewer than six days before we will go to the polls to make a decision, based on the best information provided to us, on the voucher matter. If Mr. Piatt made a mistake and was willing to express that to his friends, I hope in the interest of public awareness and professionalism that he would make that known, and specifically to correct the public record on this question.

Now, it isn't just bloggers bringing attention to the problem of this report's credibility, and KSL itself is acknowledging its discomfort about the mess -- although I notice that no one yet has taken a step to say that there were fundamental errors in the report. Rather, they're adopting a slippery path, just disavowing any part in the production of PCE's flyer here ( and here (, and hoping that the next few days go by quickly.

Of course, it's still true that KSL editorialized against Referendum 1. But Mr. Piatt's contribution to the public record, on behalf of his television station, is what's in the public record, and that's what sits on paper in black-and-white on kitchen tables across the Wasatch Front.

Which is more important, letting errors be sold as truth, or standing up and correcting the public record?

It looks like allowing errors to be sold as truth -- or pretending that correcting the public record isn't really an option -- is more important to KSL News Director Con Psarras, quoted in Paul Rolly's column today here (

Now, it is KSL's turn to take umbrage at the voucher advocates' attempts to turn the media giant into a pro-voucher toady.

The television station put a statement on its Web site taking issue with the voucher advocates' flier that implies "Eyewitness News" produced, or helped to produce, the voucher ad.

The flier points to a KSL story that analyzed ads being aired by both sides of the voucher debate. Reporter Richard Piatt questioned some points in the anti-voucher ads, and that's what the pro-voucher folks highlighted in their own fliers and ads "thanking" KSL for its truth in advertising test.

KSL News Director Con Psarras said the three-minute story was a complex analysis and to simply boil it down to a "true" versus "false" scenario is misleading.

"It's ironic that we do a 'truth test,' the intent being to distinguish between spin and actual fact, and the people who like what we did in that story take our material and spin it out of context," Psarras said on KSL's Web site.

KSL's news department takes no stand for or against vouchers, Psarras said.

No, it just aired an erroneous report that's now the public record and that misleads voters, and it apparently doesn't intend to correct that record. You can't really count that as taking a stand, can you?

Or can you? Let me check that PCE flyer again; it's on the kitchen table with KSL's work all over it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Are vouchers "welfare for the rich"?

They're words that I've used myself, responding to the University of Utah's Center for Public Policy and Administration review of House Bill 148 here ( To me, it's an obvious conclusion, since the maximum voucher award under House Bill 148 is $3,000, meaning that only well-to-do would be able take advantage of the offer and not suffer under additional expense, and since rural parents in particular would have no benefit from it at all, there being no private schools within a reasonable distance of them.

In the last few days, more have come to this conclusion. Educator and blogger Kalyn Denny, responding to a post by Leslie Madsen Brooks here (, wrote,

I've been arguing against vouchers for so many years that frankly I'm getting a little bored with the topic, but one argument that a lot of people seem to miss is the lack of logic in viewing vouchers as a tax rebate because your kids aren't going to public school. In our society, everyone pays for the public schools (to have an educated society) in the same way that everyone pays for roads even if they don't drive or pays for parks even if they never jog. I pay my share of taxes which support public schools even though I have no children. So how does it make sense that people who do have kids in school get a "rebate" on their taxes (the voucher) because they aren't using that service.

I remember when the big voucher push was on in California and the California Teacher's Union had bumper stickers that called vouchers "Welfare for the Rich." That's about the reality of it. The cheapest private schools here are much more than the $3,000 voucher.

And I do agree completely with these thoughts from Elizabeth:
"That said, I think most voucher supporters are also hypocrites -- while there are some who are truly concerned about poor kids, most of them are primarily interested in promoting the free market as the solution to all of the problems in the world and beating up on the teacher's unions."

I'll end by saying that as a 29 year teaching veteran who has really gone the extra mile to try to make a difference for kids (in the state funded lowest in the nation for public schools) I'm very insulted by some of the tactics the pro-voucher people are using here.

For more about Ms. Denny, you should review her (appetizing) work in the kitchen here (

At the same time, thanks to Ms. Brooks, who commended the research at this blog as well as a few others, including Mata Hari and Gary Weiss, who here ( weighed on Patrick Byrne's inconsiderate suggestion that high school dropouts be burned. Mr. Weiss writes,

Being a childless bachelor. a product of privilege and private schools who has never had to work a day in his life, he has really wowed the good working people of Utah, as you can imagine.

Byrne being Byrne, he immediately has begun his reverse-Dale Carnegie act, making enemies and alienating people. His latest gaffe is smearing opponents of the initiative -- 60% of Utahans, according to recent polls -- as "bigots."

I've still heard no word that Mr. Byrne has expressed regret for the statement. In fact, blogger Falze at Albany Media Bias, apparently defending him, included the full text of a letter from Mr. Byrne to his customers, which read, in part,

Dear Customer,

The NAACP is demanding an apology from me. I refuse.
...I purposefully chose such a horrific image in order to cut through the polite euphemisms by which some assuage their guilt over the current situation.

Honestly, that's a strange admission, since Mr. Byrne's first response to media was that he had been taken out of context, and his second response is that it was a lie ( Even his third try wasn't the charm, as he spent a good deal more time talking about himself than making a substantive case for vouchers:

I also built 19 schools and orphanages in Afghanistan, Nepal, and in Africa and South America, schools that now educate 6,000 kids, mostly female: all these schools are named after my Mom.

In a great new video posted this week at YouTube here (, a Utah grandpapa called IceThePuc. "A vote for Referendum 1 will simply put $3,000 into some rich guy's pocket," he says. "The rich get richer, the poor get poorer."

What makes his video so compelling is that the granddad sits behind stacks of chocolate cookies. They only "represent a well-known cookies," he explains, "but I can tell you they're cheap, generic knock-offs because, like most of you, I have to save money where I can."

Later in explaining his opposition to vouchers, the granddad says, "Most of us support the public school system because we lead normal lives and live on a budget."

Detailing the eventual loss of public school funding, he asks, "Hey, rich guy, can we have some of our money back?"

He answers himself, "Once we give it away, it's pretty hard to get it back."

"The people out there encouraging you to vote 'Yes' do not represent the typical, Utah, public-education family. My kids went to public school, and now five of my grandkids are attending public school. Help protect our public education funds by voting 'No' on Referendum 1."

His end credits are a special touch. "This non-advertisement has been paid for by one grandparent against Referendum 1," he says, as the words "A 'These Are Good Cookies' Production" scroll up the screen. If any awards are given after this voucher debate is finished, I hope this grandpapa gets one.

In the meantime, I've added his "A 'These Are Good Cookies' Production" to my blogroll on the left, and I hope you'll click there and watch for yourself.

A blogger named Darlene is another writer who has worked out her thought process in writing, at a blog called "A Person Named Eunice," here ( She writes,

First, I am basically a democrat at heart, at least economically. Which means that I believe that it is the moral duty of a citizen to contribute to society—yes, in the form of taxes—for the good of others in the society who are not as able to take care of themselves. (I think, for example, that to cheat on your taxes, or to bend the rules on your taxes, or even to cleverly hide assets in “legal” ways in order to avoid paying your share is unethical and, frankly, dishonest.) I feel that it is my job as a Christian to look out for my neighbors—even the ones who seem to be lazy (because, maybe, their parents didn’t teach them to work?).

I feel it is our duty to make sure that not just our own kids but the kids of our neighbors should be taken care of. This includes all those kids on the west side that are such a drain on the property taxes of “us east-siders.” That includes the kids whose parents don’t care enough to research public and private schools and use vouchers to make sure their kids get what’s best for them.

If the voucher proposition passes, every child whose parents care about him will be put into the school, public or private or home-based, that his parents think will be best for him. But what about the kids whose parents don’t care, or who are overworked or undereducated enough not to be able to research what’s best? They will be left in the public schools. These kids are often the ones who use the most resources from the education system, in the form of teacher energy and other, more measurable resources.
My other big reason for being against vouchers is that I don’t believe that it is moral to whine that a system isn’t working and then jump ship. I think the right thing to do is to fix public education, not abandon it. People who are unhappy should join school boards, volunteer in their schools, lobby for more and better asset allocation within districts, etc. If all of the caring parents start jumping ship, it will sink. And, once again, what happens to the kids left on the ship?

I don’t know a single public schoolteacher who is in favor of vouchers. And why is that? You’d think that they would recognize that more private school students means more job opportunities for them, right? Well, it probably does. But the reason is that the kind of people who are choosing to become schoolteachers these days are doing it for only one reason: they care about education. There is NO other reason a person would become a teacher in this world. And the people who really care about education in society (not just about their own kids’ educations) know that the voucher system is not good for society.

I didn't include her entire rationale, so I encourage you to click through and read the rest, too.

Finally, I need to thank Tyler Slack at Desultory Thoughts, who posted a catalog of voucher-related posts more than a week ago, and who found a few of mine helpful in his deliberations. You can read his notes here ( He writes, in conclusion,

I haven’t written anything tonight that 100 other bloggers haven’t already written. Nothing original about this, more of a summary if anything. But the last reason I choose not to support vouchers is not only because of the plain information and facts that are laid out before me, helping me see that it is indeed flawed, but all the other individuals and organizations that are advocating on behalf of our children and hoping Referendum 1 is voted down on November 6.

Thanks, Tyler.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Is KSL's reporter a voucher accomplice?

One of the reasons I thought the Utahns for Public Schools representative, Lisa Johnson, did a better job of presenting her case than Richard Eyre in last week's "debate" on KSL was because she was quick and effective at rebutting his arguments with clear, concise facts and data. His "gee-whiz" folksiness and his crumbling cookies didn't overcome ready facts, ably delivered. A good example of this involved KSL itself. When given the chance by the moderator, Mr. Eyre leaped onto the "true-false" report done by KSL's Richard Piatt and reminded viewers that Mr. Piatt judged two UTPS commercials to be false but said two Parents for Choice in Education ads were true.

But Ms. Johnson took issue with that report and, as I recall, knocked down Mr. Piatt's findings one by one. If I had a transcript of that conversation, I'd post it to illustrate my point, but I don't. I only recall that Ms. Johnson took the stuffing, piece by piece, out of that "true-false" story. In the end, she was convincing and Mr. Eyre was not.

Now there's a new chapter to the "true-false" story. Mata Hari reported here ( on Friday that PCE is sending out mail that quotes Mr. Piatt's report and uses his graphics ("FALSE" stamped across the faces of classroom teachers). Mata Hari says she "went in search of setting the record straight and came across a letter from State Board of Education Chair Kim Burningham to the News Editor at KSL."

"I hope that KSL will do something about this, and that after further review, Piatt will issue a retraction. I sure dislike seeing a TV station being purposely used to distort the facts," she writes.

Sure enough, the letter from Mr. Burningham took apart, piece by piece, Mr. Piatt's report just as Ms. Johnson did in the "debate" with Mr. Eyre.

For example, Mr. Piatt reported, “During this five-year trial period, the program is an 'experiment.'”

But even I know, just from reading House Bill 148, that there's no "trial period." If voters approve Referendum 1, it's enacted for good, unless or until the legislature chooses to repeal the law and the governor signs the repeal.

Now, for sure it's an experiment -- "most definitely a risky and costly experiment," as Mr. Burningham puts it -- but Mr. Piatt's report leaves the viewer thinking that there's a trial phase and if the plan doesn't work for Utah families, it will naturally fade away. The fact is, it'll be law -- it won't just "fade away." Mr. Burningham writes,

...there is no sunset date and no termination or reaction to the study is required. No language exists requiring the legislature to reauthorize the program at any time in the future. It just continues.

In the UTPS commercial, the 2006 Teacher of the Year says, "Private school vouchers take resources away from public schools." But Mr. Piatt reported that she wasn't telling the truth. "In a financial sense, that's false," he said.

But in a fact-based reality, it's certainly true. Everyone seems to agree that because House Bill 148 sets aside "mitigation money" so that public schools wouldn't (in theory, although this hasn't been really explained) lose the per-pupil funding it gets as children are taken out of public schools and enrolled in private schools, that mitigation money goes away after five years. Then, schools go right back to being funded -- poorly, let's remember -- on a per-pupil basis. Yet schools' overhead costs are the same: the cost of buildings, maintenance, utilities, staffing, etc. The bottom line is that the voucher plan, then, would result in a loss of funding to public schools.

As Mr. Burningham writes,

The Legislative Fiscal Analyst has estimated that the voucher program will cost the state $429 million over the next 13 years. The fact is that every dollar spent on voucher schools is a dollar that is not going in to the public classroom. [, Table 8; Salt Lake Tribune, March 8, 2007.]

The “mitigation monies” outlined in HB 148 are only for the first five years after a student leaves the school. So, while the cost of running a school – paying the teachers, the rent, the support staff, the electricity bill – remains much the same, the budget the school has to do those things will diminish.

Furthermore, while there may be some savings to schools during the first few years of the program, as private school students are added on down the line public school districts will experience a significant drop in funding as the cost of the voucher program balloons from $9 million to over $70 million by 2020. This is because all private school students by year 13 of the program will be receiving state money – whether or not it makes a difference to their family in being able to afford private school tuition. The $429 million estimated by the Legislative Fiscal Analyst as the cost to the state over the next thirteen years far outweighs any estimates of savings it could provide.[Salt Lake Tribune, March 8, 2007]

One of Mr. Piatt's most blinding misstatements is this one: “In anti-voucher ads those questions are cast as troubling questions: ‘Setting few if any standards for private voucher schools. Like no accreditation…’ That’s false. In fact, school accreditation…[is]spelled out in both voucher bills.”

Boy, is that patently false. I've read House Bill 148 word-for-word more than a dozen times and I've broken it down segment-by-segment in a four-part series online, and I'd challenge Mr. Piatt to demonstrate how House Bill 148 requires private schools to be accredited. It's not there.

Mr. Burningham puts it much more politely:

HB 148 states that schools taking voucher students must “provide, upon request to any person, a statement indicating which, if any, organizations have accredited the private school.” This does not constitute a mandate for accreditation from any organization – merely that the schools disclose whether or not they have achieved accreditation. HB 174 makes no further mandates for accreditation on private schools.

According to the Utah Administrative Code Rule R277-410, the Utah State Board of Education is “not responsible for the accreditation of nonpublic schools, including private, parochial, or other independent schools.” The same rule mandates the accreditation of all public secondary schools, including charter schools, while public or charter middle, junior high, and elementary schools may seek accreditation if they wish.

Further, according to the Utah State Office of Education School Accreditation website: “In the State of Utah, by law all public schools, granting high school credit, are required to be accredited.” The State Board of Education says that “Private and parochial schools that issue high school credit and/or diplomas should be accredited” – again, not constituting a mandate.

Then Mr. Piatt gets to the question of standards and accountability in private schools, and he gets it blatantly wrong again. When the UTPS commercial says House Bill 148 includes no accountability for tax dollars, Mr. Piatt declares, "That’s false. In fact…accountability… [is]spelled out in both voucher bills. That includes requirements for annual student testing.”

House Bill 148 only requires that private schools give a "norm-referenced test" that compares their students' performance against students nationally. Nothing in the bill requires private schools to administer the same tests given in public schools, or to show how their students perform against students in Utah's public schools. That would be giving accountability to the public for public funding, and the voucher plan doesn't say that.

Or, as Mr. Burningham writes,

The test chosen by a private school may be any norm-referenced test in any curriculum. It may have absolutely no reference to the achievement required from public school students on, for instance, the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students (U-PASS). U-PASS, enacted in 2000 by the Utah State Legislature to ensure the effectiveness of the tax dollars being used in public schools, is just one of many testing requirements of the 96 percent of Utah students who attend public schools. The results of U-PASS testing are widely available and reported to allow parents to see how their child’s school is doing with the core curriculum approved by the State Board and required of all public schools. On the other hand, schools accepting vouchers have no such requirement for a comprehensive core curriculum, let alone a test that definitively covers such a curriculum. There can be no basis for comparison between public and private schools to determine success if students are not held to the same standards.

Additionally, accountability goes beyond testing - while public school budgets are reported annually and in great detail, private schools accepting vouchers must only account for the voucher payments separately and contract with a certified public accountant to make a report to the State Board every four years.

Finally, Mr. Piatt flatly misleads his viewers about teacher credentials in private schools. The UTPS ad says there's no requirement for private school teachers to have a credential to teach, and Mr. Piatt says, "That’s false. In fact…teacher credentials are spelled out in both voucher bills.”

How could someone entrusted to report facts to viewers get this so wrong? Last week, the University of Utah's Center for Public Policy and Administration got it completely right, as I wrote on Saturday. They wrote,

Teachers must either hold a baccalaureate or higher degree OR have special skills, knowledge, or expertise that qualifies them to provide instruction in the subject(s) taught.

And I wrote,

That means there's no requirement in this law that teachers in private schools have a college degree. If I'm a private school administrator and I want to hire my cousin to teach math, even though he's a high-school dropout, I can say he has "special skills, knowledge or expertise" because he managed the inventory at a local construction company for a year. That took math skills, didn't it?

Again, Mr. Burningham said it less abrasively than me:

What subject matters those degrees are held in or what “special skills” constitute making a teacher qualified is left up to each individual school. No license or teaching credential is required – merely that the school makes the qualifications of the teachers it has chosen available for review by parents.

All of this begs some simple questions for me. Did Mr. Piatt know what he was reporting? I mean, did he read the bill himself, or did he have an intern read it for him? Or did he just accept the PCE told him as fact? Did he do his own fact-checking, calling any state agencies -- maybe even the State Board of Education -- to get their input before airing his story?

And, not knowing Mr. Piatt myself, it makes me wonder whether he has some personal stake in the outcome of the voucher referendum. An educated person really can't make all of these blunders by accident, can he? Is that possible?

Taken by itself, Mr. Piatt's report is one great mess, and it's clear than PCE is taking advantage of it to confuse voters. But then I recall that Governor Jon Huntsman appeared before television cameras last week, said hopeful things about the voucher plan, said he would vote for it, then advised Utah voters to do their own research into the issue, come to their own conclusions and vote their conscience. Within a couple of days, it seemed, PCE had produced a new commercial that included only the governor's remarks that were favorable to the voucher plan.

Taken together then, Mr. Piatt's report and the PCE ad featuring Governor Huntsman, it looks like there's a pattern in PCE's strategy: Get something into the public record, even if it's false, or even if it's only part of what we want, and then use the parts we like to create a better, stronger impression that favors the voucher plan.

Is Mr. Piatt a willing accomplice in this strategy? It's a possibility, since we know that the editorial board of his television station has taken a clear and public stand against vouchers. They published it here (, saying,

The KSL Editorial Board has thoughtfully considered the views presented by opponents and proponents of school vouchers, and has come to the conclusion that a broad taxpayer supported voucher system should not be implemented in Utah. Our opposition to vouchers boils down to a fundamental question: Is Utah's public school system broken and in such disarray that doing something as radical and unproven as directing precious tax dollars toward private schools, many of them parochial, the answer? We think not!

It is not a question of school choice since parents already have a variety of options in Utah. Any parent who so chooses can send a child to a private school, or a charter school, or a different public school! School choice is not the issue!
In KSL's view, that's where the focus of Utahns ought to be. Let's reject vouchers and work toward making changes that will benefit all Utah children for generations to come.

So Mr. Piatt's employers weren't behind his report.

Come to think of it, that leads to one more question: If the editors at KSL are plainly opposed to the plan, yet they have allowed Mr. Piatt's erroneous report to stand (and now to be used by PCE as pro-voucher campaign material), then are they, too, willing accomplices in the pro-voucher campaign? How difficult is it to say, "Our reporter produced a report that drew certain conclusions, and in retrospect, we understand that those conclusions weren't accurate. In the interest of public service, we want to amend that report and offer a better account"?

As it is, the editors at KSL have let their reporter's errors stand. In an email exchange with Bill Keshlear here (, when confronted with the various facts refuting his report, Mr. Piatt wrote simply,


I stand by my story.


And so far, KSL stands by its errors.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

What does the CPPA report tell us?

First, I had nothing to do with the report that's just been released by the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Utah (,0,w), so any similarities you may find between their report and my personal analyses of House Bill 148 here (, here (, here ( and here ( are purely coincidental, as they say in the movies. Unless its authors took the time to read my posts on it, for which I'd be happy.

Now that that's out of the way, Hooray! that someone has finally made an objective, piece-by-piece report of what House Bill 148 says. This is what I've been waiting for. Why has no newspaper done this? Or television station? My only complaint about the CPPA report is that it's so brief. It reads and feels as if the authors have really gone out of their way to be noncommittal about the bill. I respect and applaud that goal, but in the pursuit of offending no side, the result is that the report feels thinner and paler than it could have been.

Nonetheless, it's the best we've got, and it's good. Writers Jennifer Robinson, Janice Houston and Sarah Wilhelm promise only "The Basics" in their title, and that's what they deliver. What did the Utah legislature do?

In 2007, the Utah Legislature passed the Parent Choice in Education Program, which, if implemented, will provide scholarships (vouchers) to children to attend private schools.

I'm glad the authors don't adopt the misleading term used in the bill, "scholarship." (Yet. But unfortunately it slips in later.) And who will get these vouchers?

Unlike voucher programs in other states that limit scholarships to only low-income students or students with disabilities, the Parent Choice program will provide scholarships to all Utah students who meet basic criteria.

So what did the CPPA choose to do?

The Center for Public Policy and Administration has completed an analysis of the Parent Choice in Education Program. This analysis provides a thorough examination of the Parent Choice program by addressing who is eligible, the standards for private schools, and the fiscal impact on the state and school districts.

Great start.

Then the authors deliver a brief history of the legislative, judicial and citizen-led actions that found House Bill 148 on the November 6 ballot, including the confusion about the second voucher bill, which is not a part of the voucher referendum but which will be affected by the referendum outcome.

The scholarship program was set to begin in the 2007-2008 school year; however, “The Utah Supreme Court ruled that if a majority of voters vote in favor of implementation of HB 148, then the Parents Choice in Education Program under HB 148 and HB 174 will be established. If a majority of voters vote against implementation of HB 148, then the Program will not be established” (Utah Legislative Research and General Council 2007).

If House Bill 148 were enacted, what would it do?

The Parent Choice in Education Program, if implemented, will provide annual scholarships to qualifying children to attend private schools in Utah. The scholarships range between $500 and $3,000 per student, depending upon family size and income.

And who is considered "qualifying"?

In order to qualify for the program, a student’s custodial parent or legal guardian must reside in Utah. The student must be between 5 and 19 years of age (except that a student who has not graduated from high school may qualify up to age 21).

Students must also meet at least one of the following criteria:
=Be born after September 1, 2001;
=Be enrolled as a full-time student in a Utah public school on January 1, 2007;
=Not be a Utah resident on January 1, 2007; or
=Be in a lower income family (student qualifies for reduced lunch)

These four criteria prohibit students currently enrolled in private schools from receiving the voucher scholarship, unless the student’s family is low income. Therefore, the students who will qualify for the scholarship are those just entering kindergarten, those who were enrolled in a Utah public school on January 1, 2007, students who lived outside of Utah on January 1, 2007, or students from low-income families who are now enrolled in private schools.

But it is also true, and I wish the authors had pointed out plainly, that because the program is being phased in over 13 years, by the end of that period it will cover children who aren't transferring from public schools to private schools, but also children who are enrolling in school for the first time, using public-funded vouchers in private schools.

The authors then include a chart showing the dollar amount of the voucher that would be given to a private school, even for the wealthiest families in Utah. Their chart demonstrates that this isn't a program designed to subsidize private school education for poor families, but rather to subsidize private school education for the wealthy. Its welfare for the wealthy, paid for from the state treasury!

Back to their narrative, they explain what House Bill 148 requires a parent to do if he or she wanted to collect a voucher:

To receive a scholarship a parent must apply for the scholarship from the Utah Board of Education by June 1 preceding the school year. By signing the application, parents acknowledge that:

=A private school may not provide the same level of services that are provided in a public school.

Which is a tacit admission, isn't it, that the program isn't really about "competition," because the standards to be met by public schools are -- as the bill acknowledges -- higher than any standards expected of private schools.

=The private school in which they have chosen to enroll their child has disclosed to them the teaching credentials of the school's teachers and the school's accreditation status.

It doesn't require that a school hire any teachers with professional credentials, or that the school earn any accreditation from any authority. It only requires the school to tell parents what, if any, credentials its teachers have, and what, if any, accreditation it may have collected.

=They will assume full financial responsibility for the education of their scholarship student if they accept this scholarship.

Which again acknowledges that the dollar amount of the voucher is likely not going to cover the cost of private school expenses, leaving the parent to make up any and all of the difference -- plus the cost of transportation.

=Acceptance of this scholarship has the same effect as a parental refusal to consent to services pursuant to Section 614(a)(1) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

And with this, the state washes its hands of any responsibility it has to guarantee equal protection to students, including students with special needs, or students with handicaps, under federal law. This part makes it clear that once a mother endorses the voucher check to the private school, that mother waives all federal rights guaranteed to her and her children, and the state won't offer any protections of its own.

This is a pretty powerful section, if you ask me. But the next section is just as powerful; it outlines the pale requirements for a private school to be eligible to receive the public-funded vouchers.

So what are these pale requirements?

First, the private schools must have a physical location within Utah where students attend classes and have direct contact with teachers.

So, anyone who opens a storefront "school" can qualify.

Second, private schools must comply with the antidiscrimination provisions laid out in the U.S. Code under which students may not be discriminated against because of race, sex, color, national origin, disability, religion, age or status as a parent.

So voucher-receiving schools cannot discriminate on the basis of race, religion or other factors, but there's never a guarantee that space will be available for a child who... (you fill in the blank on the basis of race, religion or other factors).

Third, private schools must annually assess each student using a norm-referenced test that compares students’ performance to national results.

Why not use a test that compares students' performance to state results -- the performance of all Utah students in every school, public and private? Is there a reason we can't do that? Or is there a fear of what those comparisons might reveal?

Fourth, schools must contract with an independent certified public accountant (CPA) who must submit a financial report at the time the school applies to accept scholarship students and once every four years after.

While public schools are subject to review every year, a private school that accepts public funds will only have to deliver an audit every four years. That means a private school can misuse public funds the first year it accepts them, if it chooses to, but the public won't know about it for another three years.

Fifth, there are also requirements for teachers at private schools. Teachers must pass a criminal background check. Teachers must either hold a baccalaureate or higher degree or have special skills, knowledge, or expertise that qualifies them to provide instruction in the subject(s) taught.

Did you notice that second "or"? I'll highlight it for readers:

Teachers must either hold a baccalaureate or higher degree OR have special skills, knowledge, or expertise that qualifies them to provide instruction in the subject(s) taught.

That means there's no requirement in this law that teachers in private schools have a college degree. If I'm a private school administrator and I want to hire my cousin to teach math, even though he's a high-school dropout, I can say he has "special skills, knowledge or expertise" because he managed the inventory at a local construction company for a year. That took math skills, didn't it?

Sixth, schools must have an enrollment of 40 students or more. They cannot operate in a private residence nor can residential treatment facilities participate in the program.

So if I want to open a private school in a storefront and begin collecting public funds through vouchers, I only have to enroll 40 children. If I have a large family -- lots of brothers and sisters and cousins, and they all have children -- then I can open a school serving only the children in my own extended family, and make a profit from public funding. That's precisely what the law will allow.

Lastly, schools that “encourage illegal conduct” are not eligible to participate in the voucher program.

That's a relief. Although nothing in House Bill 148 requires teachers in private schools to undergo criminal background checks, it's nice to know that the school itself can't encourage any illegal conduct.

And yet, as the authors point out:

Given the criteria above, not all private schools will be eligible to participate in the voucher program.

Because the criteria are so stringent? These criteria?

It is equally important to note that not all private schools will choose to participate in the voucher program.

CPPA points out that the state Board of Education will be responsible administering the voucher program, with a little funding to cover administrative costs.

Then CPPA addresses the fiscal impact of the program. Even after you move your stacks of Oreo cookies around, playing with "costs" versus "savings," the CPPA reaches a conclusion that a lot of other folks have reached, too:

By the 13th year of the program, when it is fully implemented, the costs to the state will exceed savings to the school districts by $43-59 million.

That's not $59 million of savings to the state, that's $59 million in COST to the state. And I thought vouchers were supposed to save taxpayers money?

The authors point out that there are voucher programs in other places, but that there's a big difference between them and House Bill 148:

The voucher programs in these states are aimed at specific populations of students, such as low-income students or students with disabilities.

...Utah’s voucher law... is the only state-wide voucher law that will provide scholarships to all students who meet the basic criteria outlined above.

So while other cities or states may have experimented with giving vouchers only to poor parents, the sponsors of House Bill 148 went whole-hog, drafting a plan that includes even the wealthiest of the wealthy, and making it statewide and universal -- an experiment that has never been attempted before on this scale, with these costs.

CPPA outlines the arguments for and against the voucher plan without indicating whether any argument has greater merit in shaping public policy, and I wish they had included that sort of evaluation. It would have been helpful in decision-making. But they do raise a point that I raised in one of the earliest notes I posted on this issue: What does the Constitution say, here ( They write,

Finally, there may be constitutional concerns with Utah’s voucher law.

According to the Utah Voter Information Pamphlet, available through the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, under the Parent Choice in Education Program, public funds will be used to provide scholarships for students who attend private schools, including private religious schools.

The use of public money for students attending private religious schools may conflict with federal or state constitutional provisions that prohibit the use of public money for religious purposes. In addition, other aspects of the program may conflict with equal protection provisions of the federal or state constitution or with state constitutional provisions relating to the State Board of Education’s authority or the scope of the public education program.

Because of the program’s unique characteristics and the lack of a directly applicable court ruling, it is unclear how a court would rule on any of these issues.

All in all, this was a good, fact-based, objective look at House Bill 148, and I'm grateful to the University's CPPA for doing what our regular media hasn't had the courage to do.

Do you think the regular media will report much about this study? Or have the Oreos had their desired effect...

Friday, October 26, 2007

What will we see in finance reports?

If I remember correctly, another wave of campaign finance reports will be due next week, on or near Halloween. Should we expect more tricks or more treats in them?

One thing we can predict with certainty because the regular media has written about it many times: That Utahns for Public Schools will likely have collected some more money from NEA and probably some of its state chapters. I saw an item in the Trib (I think) last week saying that Arizona teachers were contributing to them, too. So that's a given.

What we can't predict with certainty is how much more funding Parents for Choice in Education has collected, and from where.

Will they have collected more cash from a secret source in Missouri, as we learned would happen here ( Will they report any contributions from Rex Sinquefield himself, or from his Show Me Institute, as I suggested here (

Or will PCE report a substantial contribution from hidden sources, like the $358,000 it showed in its last report from its "PCE Foundation" and its corporation, "PCE Incorporated," as we learned here ( That way, the real donors are kept secret. Isn't it strange that if I donate $100,000 to PCE's political action committee, my name is reported and becomes public information. But if I donate $100,000 -- or even a million dollars -- to PCE's "foundation" or its "corporation" and let those entities funnel my donation to PCE's PAC, then I remain anonymous, as I learned here (

Does it matter that someone could pour a million dollars or more into PCE to influence Utah public policy and never be held accountable for that influence?

Someone has to be paying for its tv ads, and it's safe to say that $358,000 didn't cover all of them, PLUS the cost of running their campaign, PLUS the people they brought from other states and paid $6,000 for six weeks' work (, PLUS their attorneys' fees (, PLUS the pay-for-votes plan they started but scrapped (

If I had to guess, I'd predict that someone, somewhere has tried hard to match what they thought UTPS would likely collect. If that's so, I wouldn't be surprised if PCE has collected and spent a million dollars or more -- all from unidentified donors.

Is it a safe prediction that the regular media will ask these questions, and spend the time to track down the answers? If history is any guide, we may be disappointed again ( Paul Rolly will likely do his part, but there are a lot more reporters than just Mr. Rolly covering this issue.

Based on what we read in their articles, I can't tell whether or not regular media reporters read weblogs. But I do read those weblogs, and I wonder if we as webloggers ought to make sure that the reporters have the benefit of our work. So last night I went back through the 14-day archives of major papers and found the names of reporters who wrote articles about them, and collected their email addresses if those addresses were attached to their articles. Here's the list I made:

From the DesNews:
Jennifer Toomer-Cook,
Tiffany Erickson,
Lee Davidson,
Amy Choate-Nielsen,
Amelia Nielson-Stowell,
Lee Benson,
Joe Dougherty,
Jared Page,

From the Herald-Journal (Logan and Cache County):
Charles Geraci,
Devin Felix,

From the St. George Spectrum:
Katie Oliveri,
Ryan Dionne,

From the Trib:
Lisa Schencker,
Glen Warchol,

From the Davis County Clipper:
Doug Radunich,
Becky Ginos,

From the Park City Record:
Frank Fisher,

From the Ogden Standard-Examiner:
David Troester,
Amy K. Stewart,
Sam Cooper,

And from the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin:
Sarah Miley,

I hope they will look through the finance reports for themselves and see if my predictions are close. Even so, I hope to send to them whatever interesting facts I find there. At least they'll know that the issue has been researched by the blog community if nowhere else.

Speaking of the blog community, I was pleased to see this week that Tyler Slack at Desultory Thoughts is back with a new post on the voucher referendum, here ( Of course, I appreciate the links, but I think Tyler did a good job cataloging what else has been published on the details of House Bill 148. Check out his work.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What did we learn from the KSL debate?

Debates over the voucher referendum are coming fast and furious now. I hope to write more about the KSL debate between Richard Eyre and Lisa Johnson, and I will, but I thought I'd put up the links to the KSL video now and add more to this note later.

If you want my opinion, I think Ms. Johnson took this one home with her clarity, consistency and believability. I know that Mr. Eyre is a salesman by trade, but in a matter of important and expensive public policy like this, it might have been better not to appear and sound like a salesman. The most ridiculous moment was when he pulled crumbling Oreo cookies from his pants pocket.

I have to say that the Oreo cookie theme was cute when the Eyres first rolled it out, and it made a good (though misleading) prop for a tv commercial. But after two months of Oreo cookies, I think most people are tired of them (at least I am). Even the moderator seemed to think it was ridiculous to have him drag out crumbling cookies.

Debates are as much about performance as about the information, so I'll make one more point about Mr. Eyre's performance, since he's had a long career in public speaking and should know how to present himself well. For thirty years, Mr. Eyre has presented himself as a "nice guy." But he really didn't come across as "nice" in the debate, he came across as, well, overbearing, leaning over toward Ms. Johnson for part of the time -- when he wasn't trying to make friends with the moderator. (Maybe this is going too far back, but does he remind anyone else of Eddie Haskell, from "Leave It to Beaver"? Really phony and artificially earnest?)

And interrupting a speaker may win you points for being aggressive in big-league debates or especially on the cable news shows, but interrupting Ms. Johnson's responses just reinforced my feeling that Mr. Eyre isn't the "nice guy" that he portrays in his books and appearances on national tv. It makes me wonder, Does he do that at home? Is "bullying" one of the character values taught in his Joy Schools?

For now, the link to the KSL video is here (

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Who is intimidating & who is informing?

Yesterday I mentioned the Trib article saying that the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce is still struggling to come to a decision whether or not to support the voucher referendum. It reported that pro-voucher special interests have taken matters into their own hands and begun circulating letters to businessmen across the region.

While it's never safe to predict what representatives of special interests will do when ethics clash with a potential profit motive, if I were a gambler I'd bet money that the Salt Lake Chamber will find that common ground pretty soon and come out for the voucher referendum. For one thing, time is running out. And what motivates businessmen is the POTENTIAL for profit. There's plenty of potential for profit when public funds are funneled into the private sector. And compromising one's ethics often stings less than a flu shot, because doing it can garner as many new friends in the business community as it costs you. So I'll stay tuned for that announcement.

By lunchtime yesterday, the Trib had found a copy of this letter and published it here ( Several things about it caught my attention. One is that these business leaders finally admitted that the goal of the voucher program isn't to improve public education, isn't to reduce class size, isn't to give public schools more funding -- the various lies that have been promoted for the past six months -- but instead, the goal is to give parents an incentive to move their children from public schools to private schools. The businessmen say it in black-and-white:

The new voucher law would create an incentive to move as many of these new students as possible into the private sector...

But that's not all. Mata Hari picked up on this yesterday, too, here ( but I'd like to repeat it: There's a real strong element of Big-Brother intimidation, or old-fashioned bullying, in the letter when it comes to special interests telling businessmen to inform their employees about this referendum, and what to say to their employees, and how to say it. When I scraped out the fluff from the letter, here is that element laid bare:

Dear Fellow Business Leader,

It would take a significant tax increases just to accommodate this [public school enrollment] growth, and that could hurt our citizens and our economy.
The new voucher law would create an incentive to move as many of these new students as possible into the private sector and relieve pressure on taxpayers and our public schools.
Because of misguided opposition, the new voucher law has been placed on the November 6 ballot and now voters must decide its fate. Unfortunately, no one is talking about the enrollment crisis we face and the important role vouchers will play in avoiding overcrowded classes and massive
tax increases.
We are asking you to tell your employees about this aspect of the debate and encourage them to carefully consider the economic
impact of their decision. We have drafted a letter you can use as a template to explain the issue to your employees.
Please take the time to go over the information and to add your own thoughts as you discuss this issue with your employees.
We also strongly encourage that you remind your employees to vote.

Did you get the message? It says, roughly, We want voters to adopt the voucher referendum. Here's a way to scare them into adopting it: Tell them taxes will increase if they don't. Tell your employees that they can stop their taxes from rising by voting for the referendum. In fact, we're sending you a letter to read to them, or to give to them, and you should add to it if you know of something more than will convince them to vote for the voucher plan. Whatever you do, make sure that you tell them that voting for the voucher plan is a good idea, then tell them to vote.

To me, that's not information, that's intimidation. What comes next, a signed note from the poll supervisor saying you voted, that you can turn in to your manager at work? Punishment for not voting? You lose a shift? Or you get moved to third shift?

Two things make this absurd to me. One is that, as I pointed out yesterday, Parents for Choice in Education did backflips to stop all sorts of public employees -- mainly ones that work for school districts -- from even talking about the referendum on public property; remember the nasty letter to administrators from their attorneys? The other is the panicky argument that if workers don't vote for vouchers, their taxes will go up.

That second argument is what led me to look at what happened in Milwaukee, the grandfather of voucher programs in the country. Voucher supporters used to use Milwaukee as the example all the time. The big newspaper in Milwaukee is the Journal-Sentinel, and it has some online archives you can access for free.

Guess what I found out: Taxes in Milwaukee DID go up. But they went up AFTER Milwaukee enacted a voucher program. And, in fact, they went up partly BECAUSE Milwaukee enacted a voucher program. Might they have gone up anyway? Sure, because as public services expand, and the costs of those services grow, public revenues have to be levied to pay for them.

But the businessmen of Salt Lake City -- at least these ones:

Fred Lampropoulous, CEO, Merit Medical
Keith Rattie, Chairman and CEO Questar Corporation
Patrick Byrne, CEO, Thomas E. Bingham, President, Utah Manufacturers Association
Howard M. Headlee, President, Utah Bankers Association
James V. Olsen, President, Utah Food Industry Association
L. Tasman Biesinger, Executive Vice President, Utah Home Builders Association
M. Royce VanTassell, Vice President, Utah Taxpayers Association
Chris Kyler, Utah Association of Realtors
Candace Daly, National Federation of Independent Business
Lee J. Peacock, Executive Director, Utah Petroleum Association
David A. Litvin, President, Utah Mining Association

are selling a very different equation: Enact a voucher plan, they say, and your taxes will not go up.

Last November, while the Wisconsin legislature was debating its annual budget, reporter Alan Borsuk of the Journal-Sentinel wrote an article here ( saying that public schools were closing and their enrollments were dropping, while the costs of public-funded private-voucher schools were growing. A total of 18,000 students received vouchers totaling more than $100 million, he wrote.

This is the part that stuck out like a sore thumb, given what the pro-voucher business group in Salt Lake City is telling employees:

Under the state formula for paying for school vouchers, Milwaukee residents pay more in property taxes for each student who uses a voucher than for each student who attends MPS [Milwaukee Public Schools]. Mayor Tom Barrett and others have argued strongly that what they call the "funding flaw" for the voucher program is unfairly burdening taxpayers.
In a letter last week to state Rep. Sheldon Wasserman (D-Milwaukee), Milwaukee School Board President Joe Dannecker said that $7.6 million of the $16.5 million increase in the amount of property tax to be collected for schools for this school year is due to the voucher program and that each voucher student increased property tax collections by $447, while each MPS student increased collections by $91. The total property tax bill being levied by MPS increased this fall by 7.7%.

So 18 years after enacting a city-wide voucher plan in Milwaukee, taxpayers pay almost 500 percent more ($447 per student) from their property tax bill to pay for a private school voucher than they pay to send a student to public schools ($91 per student).

That article was important enough, but Mr. Borsuk published a new one, just today, that is even more important. It says that an organization that pushed to enact the Milwaukee voucher plan 20 years ago, and one of the well-known leaders in that effort, have now changed their minds, saying that "choice may not improve schools."

A study being released today suggests that school choice isn't a powerful tool for driving educational improvement in Milwaukee Public Schools. But more surprising than the conclusion is the organization issuing the study: the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank that has supported school choice for almost two decades, when Milwaukee became the nation's premier center for trying the idea. The institute is funded in large part by the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, an advocate of school choice.

Mr. Borsuk's article is found here ( The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute sounds like the Sutherland Institute, if it's a conservative "think tank". I wonder if the Sutherland Institute also gets funding from the Bradley Foundation? Mr. Borsuk's article goes on:

Even some of the most ardent supporters of school choice in Milwaukee have seen that the purest version of the idea - in which there is little government oversight of schools, and parental decisions in a free market dictate which schools thrive - does not square with the reality of what happened in Milwaukee when something close to such a system existed. That reality can be summed up in two phrases: "bad schools" and "little change."

Bad schools: A Journal Sentinel investigative report in 2005 of the then-115 schools in the voucher program found that about 10% showed startling signs of weak operations. In short, many parents were choosing bad schools and sticking with them. Escalated government oversight of schools' business practices and a new requirement that all voucher schools be accredited by an outside organization have played roles in putting most of those schools out of business.

Little change: Milwaukee has been a national laboratory for school reform such as the voucher program, yet there is little evidence that it has yielded substantially improved academic results - at least so far. Test scores in MPS, especially for 10th-graders, have been generally flat for years. The record of the voucher schools is unclear, though results from a major study of the program are supposed to begin coming soon.

So here's what I understand: Voucher supporters in Milwaukee wanted a public-funded voucher program with little or no government oversight of voucher schools, leaving only "choice" to decide which schools are good and which aren't, and that's what they got. When that didn't work, the program was changed to allow city or state agencies to oversee the business practices in schools that were failing, and some of them closed because they couldn't meet good business standards. When there were still no improvements, the city required voucher schools to become accredited, and some more of them closed because of they couldn't meet accreditation standards. Still there was no improvement in student test scores.

Haven't we heard from the sponsors of House Bill 148 that vouchers in Utah would improve the quality of public education? That it would cause class sizes to go down? That it would leave more money in public schools? That choice would bring competition, and competition would force public schools to get better? That it wasn't necessary to ask private schools to be accountable or to be accredited, because parents would get to decide what was best for their children?

Doesn't this Milwaukee study, after 18 years of having such a program in place, put the lie to those propositions?

And here's a question: Do you know who Howard Fuller is? Gordon Jones does; Mr. Jones was the first Executive Director of the Utah Education Funding Project, whose name was changed to Parents for Choice in Education, and he continues to serve on PCE's board of directors. In explaining why he supports the voucher referendum, Mr. Jones mentioned Mr. Fuller here (, saying,

The appeal of school choice is driving leadership at the national level to the minority community. Leading voucher proponents have included Polly Williams, Floyd Flake and Bernice Gates, leaders in their minority communities, and now the irreplaceable Howard Fuller, with his Black Alliance for Educational Opportunity.

Mr. Fuller is "irreplaceable" as a leader in the voucher movement, Mr. Jones says. That's unfortunate, because the voucher movement will now have to replace him, according to Mr. Borsuk of the Journal-Sentinel:

Howard Fuller, the most prominent supporter of voucher and charter schools in Milwaukee, has changed his position toward agreeing that government oversight of voucher schools is needed. In a recent interview for a workshop of the national Education Writers Association, Fuller said empowering parents to make good choices, improving student performance and creating good schools were proving to be much harder achievements than many once thought.

Asked whether the voucher program was leading to improvements in the achievement of MPS students, as was once expected, Fuller said: "I'm one of those people who believes that we may have oversold that point. . . . I think that any honest assessment would have to say that there hasn't been the deep, wholesale improvement in MPS that we would have thought."

Is this one way of saying that citizens who stood up against vouchers so long ago were right? That citizens who argued for smarter investment in Milwaukee's public schools, rather than funneling money into the private sector, were right? That those citizens who asked impertinent questions when the voucher plan was being debated were right? That citizens who questioned the arguments of the voucher proponents were right? That citizens who were skeptical of the nebulous data used by voucher advocates... were right, all along?

In fact, is this another way of saying that someone should have taken a deep breath and spent more time thinking this through before investing potentially billions of dollars -- and experimenting with an entire generation of schoolchildren's lives -- in a voucher plan?

It sounds, to me, that when special interests order businessmen to tell their employees what to think, and how to vote, that's intimidation. And when a "think tank" went looking for one result but found the opposite result, then published a study saying so, that's information. (It's even a surprising admission!)

In the interest of being informative rather than intimidating, here's a bit of happy information: The early voting period has begun today!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Do businessmen and bloggers agree with KSL?

It's interesting to see how decisions are being made as we get closer to Election Day. I'm especially interested in the decisions being made by fellow bloggers, mainly because we take the time to write out our thought processes, and I value being able to read those decision-making processes. Those conclusions -- like the conclusions of the KSL editorial board, in an article published yesterday here ( -- are a lot more valuable to me than to look at the statistics we see in polls, although I'd like to mention them today too.

Getting right to their point, KSL's editors write,

The KSL Editorial Board has thoughtfully considered the views presented by opponents and proponents of school vouchers, and has come to the conclusion that a broad taxpayer supported voucher system should not be implemented in Utah.

Our opposition to vouchers boils down to a fundamental question: Is Utah's public school system broken and in such disarray that doing something as radical and unproven as directing precious tax dollars toward private schools, many of them parochial, the answer?

We think not!

It is not a question of school choice since parents already have a variety of options in Utah. Any parent who so chooses can send a child to a private school, or a charter school, or a different public school! School choice is not the issue!

A vote against vouchers must not be interpreted as a vote for the status quo. Make no mistake about it, there's plenty of room for improvement. Still, contemplate what could be accomplished if the energy that has been directed at vouchers could be redirected toward implementing reasoned, effective and adequately funded reforms in the tried and tested public school system.

In KSL's view, that's where the focus of Utahns ought to be. Let's reject vouchers and work toward making changes that will benefit all Utah children for generations to come.

And there's not an Oreo cookie in sight.

But before I go further, though, I want to thank Marshall at Wasatch Watcher, who was researching the Free Capitalist Project before I ever heard of it. He mentioned it last night here (, "During the summer we noticed an organization by the name of Free Capitalist that seemed a little too suspicious." And if you click through his link here (, you can read his original notes on FCP from June. In fact, I learned from Marshall a new term that I'm going to adopt: "wingnut welfare." (I'll give appropriate credit when I use it.) His research began when he saw billboards advertising the FCP and wondered who was paying for such a grand advertising campaign, and he deduced that it couldn't be a regular small business.

So I think there are some scenarios playing out here:
-the owner of the billboards are paying for the advertising out of their own pocket.
-a wealthy donor shelling out cash to support the advertising campaign.
-this is another right wing astroturf group.

Either way you slice it I don't see how an operation like this is breaking even without some wingnut welfare.

What is wingnut welfare? For those that haven't heard it here is a quick synopsis. Basically wingnut welfare is support for an organization that could not exist in the real world without the infusion of cash from usually a wealthy donor (that incidentally usually benefits from right wing policies) like the Walton family.

Now this would not normally be so hard to swallow if it wasn't the fact that an organization like this goes around telling people how great the free market is but can't even support its own activities.

I think I agree with Marshall. I think the Icebergs are probably great money-makers for Rick Koerber, but I don't think they're big enough to pay for the FCP ad campaign.

Thanks, Marshall, for your notes and for giving me a new term to use.

Now, whether we look at polls or we read the decisions written by thoughtful people in the blogs, it looks like Parents for Choice in Education, the Free Capitalist Project and the sponsors of House Bill 148 aren't fooling many people. Just this morning, KCPW reported that the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce -- which includes Patrick Byrne, PCE's largest individual (public) donor -- can't agree on whether or not to support the voucher plan. Reporter Julie Rose said here ( that the pro-voucher business leaders are so angry at the delay that they're acting on their own:

Members of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce are so divided on vouchers that Vice President Natalie Gochnour says they're struggling to take a position on the issue. Several prominent CEOs are fed up with the delay and now running their own campaign in support of school choice.
The group is distributing form letters to business leaders, asking them to promote vouchers to their employees...

Isn't that strange? Business leaders are going to ask their employees to vote for the voucher referendum. Isn't that what PCE's lawyers said was illegal? Remember, PCE's attorneys sent a letter to school district administrators more than a month ago telling them they couldn't allow any literature about the referendum to be displayed at their work sites, and they couldn't allow school employees to talk about the referendum either.

I wonder if PCE's attorneys will send a letter to Mr. Byrne and the pro-voucher members of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, advising them that urging their employees to take any particular action on Election Day is not legal? Or is it? Maybe it was only illegal to talk about the details of the voucher plan or to hand out literature about it, if doing so might lead people to oppose it. Maybe it's entirely legal for business owners in the private sector to tell their employees to vote for it. Is it legal?

Anyway, Ms. Rose's point is that the business community is split on vouchers. If that's true, they might benefit from reading Pramahaphil's post at Green Jello, which outlines the suggested costs of the plan, and the suggested "savings" of the plan, then reaches a conclusion about the plan here ( Frankly, it's one of the best, most-reasoned posts I've read about the issue. Pramahaphil writes,

I have been reviewing the [Legislative Fiscal Analysis] report again and again, and I have hit a paradigm shifting roadblock in my support of vouchers. I do still believe vouchers would produce a fairly decent net savings for the first few years (savings ranging somewhere near 4-6.2 millon or in a worse case scenario a loss) , but there will come an equilibrium within 5 to 6 years where the savings break even, and when vouchers fully implement in the 13th year and onward vouchers will inevitiably begin to net annual losses. One might argue about the ambiguities of savings from private school student who would have gone to private schools with or without vouchers and the students who may attend private schools because vouchers make the difference, however it is impossible to get around the fact as time goes by (especially after year thirteen) all students in private schools will be receiving voucher money (whether or not they wanted or needed vouchers to incentivize them out of the public school system).

Judging from the Legislative Fiscal Analyst's Report, from year 13 (and I assume from then on) vouchers will net annual losses between $43,088,978 and $59,492,020. There may have been some options that could have alleviated this undesirable effect of subsidizing students who were "no-matter-what-the-cost" private school bound such as requiring a 1 or 2 year period of public school attendance for voucher eligibility. However, with the exception to the eligibility of current Utah-residing, school-aged students no such requirements were included in HB148 or 174.

Pramahaphil is an accountant, so it gives me even more cause for concern when he spends this much time poring over the Legislative Fiscal Analysis and finds more questions than answers. I tend to rely on my own accountant to know how to find workable solutions when we meet at tax-time. If Pramahaphil has hit a stumbling block, maybe it's time to step back and take a deep breath. He continues,

After the 13th year and beyond it would be a drain on the public coffers, and I'm afraid it would be viewed as nothing more than another entitlement program.

If HB148 or 174 would have had a provision forcing voucher recipients to enter public school for at least a year or more before being voucher eligible, the thirteen year savings to loss issue may have been solved. This is not the case, HB148 would have its beneficial savings for a season but in the long-run would become a drain of Utah's tax dollars. I hope that if and when Ref 1 is voted down the Legislature reconsiders the issue, and looks at how to resolve the 13 year crunch.

Regretfully, I think I will be dropping my support of referendum 1 with the forlorned hope that the idea doesn't die permanently in this state. If this damages my credibility -- so be it. The idea is good, but the plan's execution has that 1 major flaw for me. This paradigm shift has not been an easy one for me to embrace.

In comments at the bottom of Pramahaphil's post, a lot of readers praise his courage for taking this position, and I agree with them.

Mike Jones at Utahania is one of them, writing here (, "Pramahaphil over at Green Jello is even an accountant. I am not very good at accounting, so reading the numbers in the Voter's Guide was all I could handle. Pramahaphil read the Legislative Fiscal Analyst's Report, probably enjoyed it, and reached a similar conclusion to mine."

Darren Draper is another blogger who spelled out his rationale for his "7 readers in Utah," here ( Darren is an education technology specialist from Sandy who works for the Jordan School District. He writes,

This issue of vouchers, currently being referred to as Referendum 1 (here and also here, see page 4), will be decided in three weeks when Utahns will vote on one of the most debated, polarizing issues in state history. As I've been asked by several people "why referendum 1 is so bad", I'll give you my take now.

While never guaranteed to be great, private school can be great... for those that can afford it.

Most Utahns can't afford private school - even with the funding that vouchers would provide.

Hence, Referendum 1 would be a way to reward the people that already utilize private schools and not really a way to recruit new students.

To continue, I honestly believe the opening paragraphs of our nation's Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Furthermore, I believe (like many of the educators that served to shape our nation's educational system):

-Education is one of those unalienable rights to which all men (and women) are entitled.

-Neither liberty nor the pursuit of happiness can truly be obtained without an education.

In closing, I think there are many questions that all people need to answer for themselves:
-How do you feel about public funding for private schools?

-Have you studied the issues yourself?

-Do you think that every child has a right to a quality education?

Another blogger I enjoy reading, Bob Aagard, has spelled out his views on the plan itself but also takes a hard stand against the tactics used to promote it here ( After leading a small campaign of his own to find young Jeffrey Isbell, the blogger from Illinois hired by PCE to do its work on the internet, Bob writes this note:

My problem with Jeff is not his coming to Utah to work for something he believes in. That would be hypocrisy on my part. Is that any different than my going to Minnesota for two years to share the Gospel with those good people?

My problem lies in the hypocrisy of PCE complaining about NEA money (which Utah educators have paid into for years) coming in, but ignore the large percentage of their funding that comes from out of state. Not to mention their out of state employees.

Vouchers have always been about outside groups spending money to force this on Utah, in the hopes that it will spread across the country. Kinda like forcing democracy on the middle east. Only, instead of doing it with guns, they are doing it with money. Look at all the money the Walton heirs of plugged in to get pro-voucher legislators elected.

Recent polling has showed that 61% of Utahns will vote against vouchers in two weeks. 61%. That's a higher percentage then voted for John Huntsman in 2004.

Utahns don't want this program. Please stop forcing your views on us. You're wasting your money.

Which brings me to that poll, described here in a Trib article ( This one was done by The Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, and it shows that 61 of voters say they'll vote against the plan.

That followed a poll done by Dan Jones and Associates earlier in October, described in a DesNews article here (,5143,695216987,00.html). In that one, "sixty percent of Utah voters say they would likely vote against a voucher program."

And that result followed an even earlier poll: "In July, the Deseret Morning News reported on a similar poll that found that 57 percent of those surveyed would most likely vote against the voucher program..."

From these results, it would appear that a lot of people have, just as Governor Huntsman suggested last week, taken the time to read the plan, considered carefully its details, weighed its impacts, and come to the same conclusions drawn by the KSL editorial board.

Monday, October 22, 2007

How does Mr. Koerber avoid reporting?

Last week, after I got a note from a "Free Capitalist insider," I wondered how the Free Capitalist Project was registered with the Lieutenant Governor's office, since it was allowing its resources to be used by Parents for Choice in Education to support the voucher referendum. I would think that a mailing list, even if it's an email list, would be a thing of value. If it wasn't valuable, why would PCE want to use it? And if it is valuable, then contributing the use of it to a referendum campaign would have to be reported somewhere.

So I looked at the Lieutenant Governor's website again to see if the Free Capitalist Project had a political action committee. It doesn't.

I looked to see if FCP has a political issues committee. It doesn't.

I looked to see if it's registered as a corporation. It isn't.

It has no statement of organization as a PAC or as a PIC.

And when I search the "candidate contributor summary" feature, I find that FCP hasn't reported any contributions to any campaigns.

Yet both the Trib and the DesNews last week reported clearly that the Free Capitalist Project had allowed the use of its email list -- which has to be considered something valuable -- for Parents for Choice in Education employees. And the embarrassing retraction offered by FCP said the PCE employees were also FCP volunteers. So FCP has to be registered somehow, somewhere, right?

FCP isn't registered as a business with the Utah Department of Commerce here (, although it does business in Utah. There's a Free Capitalist Enterprises LLC in Provo. Its agent is Forrest Allen, but its address is 85 Eastbay Boulevard, which is the same address shown at the Lieutenant Governor's website for a string of $5,000 contributions made to Parents for Choice in Education on September 12, 2006. Each of these businesses, all located at 85 East Bay Boulevard in Provo, gave $5,000 to PCE on that date: Founders Capital LLC, Hill Erickson LLC, Franklin Squires Investments LLC, McGuire Group LLC, and New Castle Holdings. Some other individuals and businesses are shown in that report giving $5,000 to PCE on that date, and one of them is Rick Koerber of Springville, who is apparently the owner of all of the businesses I just listed.

Also, I googled the FranklinSquires company name again, and sure enough, Rick Koerber is founder and CEO of FranklinSquires Investments.

So Mr. Koerber = FranklinSquires Investments = 85 East Bay Boulevard in Provo = Free Capitalist Enterprises = Free Capitalist Project.

That's not all you'll find if you google FranklinSquires Investments, I learned. There's a website here ( that points to actions taken by the Wyoming Securities Division against FranklinSquires Investments, and news about a lawsuit going all the way back to 1997 has been given its own website here ( I learned two more things about Mr. Koerber -- that apparently he owns or operates a "university" (called FranklinSquires University) and that he owns the Iceberg Drive Inns!

With 11 Iceberg Drive Inn locations in three states, the rapidly expanding foodservice franchise is famous for its deliciously think, made-to-order shakes standing two inches above an oversized cup. Founded in the summer of 1960 in Salt Lake City, Utah, the original Iceberg Drive Inn quickly turned into the city’s most popular ice cream destination. Today Iceberg Drive Inn, Inc. provides unique, flavorsome products to thousands of Americans and continues to make each of its shakes the old fashioned way: personally by hand.

NOW I know how he makes his money!

Plus, there's this link ( but I honestly don't know how to evaluate the information there, whether it comes from people who have direct experience with Mr. Koerber and his companies or whether it comes from his competitors.

And there are questions about "equity milling," something apparently devised by Mr. Koerber, here (

One of the links took me back to Wikipedia's entry on the Free Capitalist Project, which reiterated what I thought: that FCP does do business in Utah, though it isn't registered anywhere as a business. The entry here ( says,

Membership in the Free Capitalist Project is free and open to the public, however individuals are required to make a public declaration called the "Producer Pledge" at a formal Free Capitalist events in order to become a formal member of the organization.
Members are not required to pay a membership fee, however following the one hour Thursday night Free Enterprise Forum meetings, the FCP holds "Prosperity Quest Study Group" sessions which are open only to FCP members who have become "Free Capitalist Apprentice Members" which includes the requirement to have paid a $250 fee and a $30 month fee.

Those fees represent a business transaction, right? If so, then where is the FCP registered as a business? At the Better Business Bureau?

No, FCP isn't shown at the Better Business Bureau of Salt Lake City, but FranklinSquires Investments is. And while it isn't a member of the BBB, it does get some attention from the BBB, as explained here ( Six complaints against FranklinSquires were filed in the past 36 months for contract issues, billing or collection issues, or refund or exchange issues, and at least one is still unresolved.

I started with a simple question and still don't have a simple answer. I learned a lot about Mr. Koerber's business dealings, but I still can't tell how his Free Capitalist Project is able to use its resources to help the voucher referendum without registering as a political issues committee, or as a political action committee, or as a corporation, with the Lieutenant Governor's office. Does anyone else know?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Aren't PCE and Free Capitalists cooperating?

Occasionally, I get pointed notes here that don't contribute to any objective analysis of the voucher referendum or the organizations supporting or opposing it. Usually they repeat someone's talking points, or they argue against a conclusion I've drawn from researching these things. Most are anonymous, although Paul Mero from the Sutherland Institute did use his own name, and a few others have. If these notes rely on rhetoric rather than objective data, I usually delete them because they don't add anything new to the analysis of the issue.

But I received one last night that I'm going to include in today's post because it begs a simple question: What is the connection between Parents for Choice in Education and the "Free Capitalist Project"?

To remind readers, I wrote yesterday about Governor Jon Huntsman's lukewarm remarks about the voucher referendum. Far from cheerleading, the governor repeated his party leaders' message about vouchers, said he would vote for the plan, but then told Utah voters to study the issue and make up their own minds. I thought it was a statesmanly and politically skillful thing to do.

Then I posted the entirety of a full-page ad in the Trib, paid for by Utahns for Public Schools, that cataloged a host of offenses on the parts of Parents for Choice in Education, the Free Capitalist Project and other PCE allies in their campaign to spend money from All Children Matter of Michigan to buy a statewide, universal voucher system for Utah. To be more specific: The only time I mentioned the Free Capitalist Project in my Thursday was when I copied a direct quote from a Trib ad, which itself copied a direct quote from a Paul Rolly column in the Trib. Here's the link to my post (, here's the link to the original Trib column (

And here's the specific excerpt that mentions the Free Capitalist Project:

With polls showing overwhelming numbers of voters poised to repeal the voucher law that was passed by the Legislature last winter, voucher advocates got so desperate Thursday they sent an e-mail from the Free Capitalist Project offering money for pro-voucher votes in next month's referendum election. But then someone must have let them know it usually is considered illegal to buy votes, so they sent a second e-mail several hours later retracting everything they said in the first e-mail.

Now, here's the note that was posted at my blog last night. If I'm to take it at face value, it comes from a "Free Capitalist insider":

Just to clarify a few things. The email was not "sent out by the Free Capitalist Project." The email was sent out by a volunteer member of the Free Capitalist Project who is currently employeed by PCE. The offer in the email was a PCE offer, and the Free Capitalist Project new nothing about the details of the "get out the vote" campaign, and had simply allowed the email to be sent to Free Capitalist members using the email database and template.

The retraction was also decided upon by PCE.

While we may disagree on politics, and Free Capitalist obviously has to be responsible for what they do, it is worth noting that NOTHING happened.

I can agree with a lot of folks who are suprised even angered by the email - but human beings in a free society make mistakes of all different varieties. Its suprising to me that so many "so called" lovers of freedom are so quick to judge those they disagree with by standards that if applied accross the board would have all of us in jail or fined severely.

Just .02 cents from a Free Capitalist insider.
(Anonymous) 8:21 PM

(This was a cut-and-paste, so the various errors belong to the author.)

In the interest of "clarify[ing] a few things" as my correspondent begs, let me offer some objective facts gleaned from the media and from my own online research.

First, an email message was published on a Free Capitalist Project "template" and was sent to Free Capitalist Project members and others in an Free Capitalist Project email database. We must assume that since no accusations of "hacking" have been lodged, the person(s) sending the message, using the Free Capitalist Project template to email addresses found in a Free Capitalist Project email database, were given access to these resources by the parties responsible for the Free Capitalist Project.

Next, Paul Rolly published the substance of both the original email and the "retraction" in the Salt Lake Tribune, which is one of the state's major newspapers. Mr. Rolly didn't invent the email, nor the retraction, nor the substance of either, nor did he invent any the $10-per-voucher-vote scheme that was represented in the original email. No amendments have been made to Mr. Rolly's column, nor any retractions of its substance.

At the same time, Tiffany Erickson of the Deseret Morning News -- another major newspaper -- reported very plainly and clearly here (,5143,695217972,00.html),

A pro-voucher group offered to pay "motivated" individuals to go out and secure votes in favor of the program. However, a retraction and apology were later sent. The Free Capitalist Project sent out e-mails earlier this week looking for "advocates" who could earn $250 for securing 25 names of voters who committed to vote for Referendum 1. They could earn $10 for every additional name after that. The group also claimed they were working on behalf of Parents for Choice in Education, something PCE said Thursday was false.

In fact, in Ms. Erickson's reporting, she quoted Free Capitalist Project CEO Rick Koerber himself saying that he gave "permission" for the person(s) to use his email list.

And, in fact, given the brief history of PCE and its well-documented tactics, a lot of attentive bloggers were more surprised at the attempts by responsible authorities to disentangle themselves from the new tactic than surprised by the new tactic itself.

Democracy for Utah wrote here (,

But really, come on... how likely is it that some random volunteer, all on his or her own, would send out a mass e-mail offering to pay people money out of the organization's funds? Money that hadn't been approved? This excuse is right up there with "the dog ate my homework." Take a little personal responsibility, someone.

Justin at Utah Amicus quoted Utah Code here (, saying

Utah Code 20A-1-601. Bribery in elections.
(1) It is unlawful for any person, directly or indirectly, by himself or through any other person to:
(a) pay, loan, or contribute, or offer or promise to pay, loan, or contribute any money or other valuable consideration to or for any voter or to or for any other person:
(i) to induce the voter to vote or refrain from voting at any election provided by law;
(iv) because a voter voted or refrained from voting for any particular person, or went to the polls or remained away from the polls; or
(2) In addition to the penalties established in Section 20A-1-609, any person convicted of any of the offenses established by this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than $1,000, or by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than five years, or by both a fine and imprisonment.

Which prompted commenter Jason The to observe, below the post,

I think things like this should be avoided in general. Obviously paying a canvasser "per head" to go out and encourage voters is not in itself illegal, but paying based on who actually votes would be, and when it comes to the PCE's reputation (so far) in this debate, I'm uncomfortable with them proceeding in this way.

I think common sense should tell an organization to steer clear of anything of this sort. It not only looks desperate and suspicious, but it creates a risk for abuse. If you can't campaign successfully without resorting to these types of incentives and tactics, perhaps it's time you reconsider your own point of view.

Maybe you're losing a particular campaign because you're wrong, and not because you're not paying people enough to vote? Just a thought.

Richard Warnick wrote at One Utah here (, "Today we learned that voucher proponents are desperate enough to pay people ten dollars each to vote for vouchers. This came from a group called the Free Capitalist Project founded by pro-voucher moneyman Rick Koerber, the second-largest donor to PCE."

And Glendon Brown, writing also at One Utah, added here (,

Richard commented on the PCE/Free Capitalist email offering cold hard cash for voucher voters. I think there’s money to be made. Here’s what we do: We knock on doors and tell people:

“Hi, my name is . . . , I’m being paid by PCE and Free Capitalist knock on doors to get names of voters interested in the voucher issue. If you let me, I’d like to put your name down and get paid $10. You will receive information from these folks and they’ll include you in get out the vote activities. You are under no obligation to vote for the vouchers, but I’d like to get paid. May I put your name down?”

(Yeah, I know they “retracted” the email, but I don’t for a second believe these folks are above paying for votes.)

EDarrell at Millard Fillmore's Bathtub went even further here (, writing,

Salt Lake Tribune political reporter Paul Rolly shows just how desperate are the voucher supporters in Utah, with polls showing the voucher referendum on the November ballot will crush the pro-voucher legislation: They offered bribes. Yes, bribes are illegal. You know that, I know that. Tell it to the voucher advocates.
I’ll wager it wasn’t the illegality that stopped them. Somebody probably sat down with a calculator and suggested how much it might cost them, at $10.00/vote, if people took them up on the offer. And for the $10.00, there’s no guarantee that any of the votes would be switches — no guarantee that it would sway any votes their way.

And AndrewsMiracleDrug, before doing his own research and finding the Free Capitalist Project's principles published at Wikipedia, wrote here (,

Unbelievable. An email sent out on behalf on Parent Choice in Education promises that volunteer “advocates” can earn up to $10 a head for every family member or friend they get to commit to vote yes on Referendum 1. The email was sent by the Free Capitalist Project (and quickly rescinded). You may have seen billboards along I-15 in Draper and Utah County touting the Free Capitalist.

So, given the coverage this train wreck has been given in the regular media and in the blogs, why is a "Free Capitalist insider" now trying to distance the FCP from PCE?

Are they not working hand-in-hand in support of the voucher referendum, supported largely by funding from All Children Matter of Michigan?

Is FCP CEO Rick Koerber not one of the largest individual contributors to PCE, giving more than $25,000 in his own name and in the names of his corporations (

Did he not admittedly give permission for PCE employees -- knowing they were PCE employees -- to use FCP resources?

Is it not a well-known tactic to recruit like-minded individuals using the resources of like-minded organizations, like when PCE advertised to hire activities from all across the country (which I described here

In my view, the connections between FCP and PCE are documented sufficiently enough that it's foolish for any "Free Capitalist insider" to disavow the relationship now. And if FCP's goal is to rehabilitate its image, it's going to take more than "clarifying a few things" at a weblog (or a dozen weblogs) to do it. We're known by the company we keep, aren't we?

One last thing: My "Free Capitalist insider" emphasizes that, in the wake of this embarrassment, "it is worth noting that NOTHING happened." I think that's a great point, and it leads me to a final question: If the FCP was so damaged by this debacle that its insiders are seeking to "clarify" facts, might they not insist also that the offending employees/volunteers be removed from their positions with PCE? Would not a Fortune 500 company replace a division leader who made such a blunder? And do so without batting an eye? I ask because at no point in the past week have I heard or read anyone say that disciplinary action was taken by anyone against anyone. I only hear and read variations of "mistakes were made," and we know the real value of such rhetoric as that.