Thursday, August 28, 2008

Patrick Byrne Sightings: What is he up to now?

I hesitate to write about Patrick Byrne anymore. For those who know him you understand what I mean. These days I get him confused with Super Dell; he embarrasses himself every time he opens his mouth. But, it's for those who don't know the name "Byrne" and what he's been trying to do for the last several years that I write. First a brief reminder.

Avid readers of Accountability will remember Patrick Byrne's involvement in last year's voucher campaign. He donated nearly $4 million to PCE (Parent's for Choice in Education) in hopes that a law allowing public funding of private schools would not be overturned by a Referendum. When the voices of the people were heard and the law was stricken, he insulted Utahns and worsened his already-poisonous reputation by making awful statements about high school dropouts (they should be "burned"), about Utah voters (they "failed the state IQ test"), about Utah parents (they "don't care enough about their children" ) and about the people debating him (they are "bigots"). The contempt he showed for his fellow Utahns on live television on Election Night illustrated why people say what they say about him. And now, allow me to say a bit more about him.

In March, 2005 Byrne co-founded an organization called First Class Education. The new group's goal was to enact laws in all 50 States that would mandate 65% of all funds be spent "in the classroom." The idea received a lot of criticism because of its arbitrariness:

  • Why choose 65%? Why not 60%? Why not 80%? There's no evidence that spending any particular percentage on instructional expenses actually improves education.

  • Why do some expenses, like football uniforms, count as classroom or "instructional" expenses, while others, such as school libraries and the cost of bussing students to the school, do not?
For all the silliness of the proposal and its unfounded claims, it actually caught on in some areas. I'm sure this was partly because of the simplicity of the idea and partly because of the money that Byrne was injecting into the campaign in the form of commercials and propaganda starting in 10 States. Texas and Georgia fell for it, unfortunately, and both states report that it is too early to assess their programs. Other states have grasped onto the idea but made it a goal, not a requirement.

A look at the First Class Education website suggests that the 65% "solution" has lost steam. There are only three "active" states with their own webpages (Colorado, Oklahoma and Missouri). Colorado voters defeated a 65 percent proposal in 2006 , the same year sponsors abandoned petition drives in Arizona, Oregon and Washington state. The Oklahoma Supreme Court threw a 65 percent proposal off the ballot in 2007, about the same time that private school vouchers were being defeated in Utah. Maybe it's time for them to shut down the site, you say? I would think so, too, but there's a new development. Byrne's 65% plan has actually found its way onto the ballot in Florida in the form of Amendment 9. This time it's tied to--are you ready for this?--VOUCHERS. That brings me to another reason for this post.

While First Class Education has not been very successful, Byrne has also aligned himself with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, one of the nation's main voucher advocacy groups. He has sat on the board since 2006 and was recently named co-chair. Gordon St. Angelo, President and CEO of the Friedman Foundation, hopes that "with Patrick on board" the number of voucher programs in the country will "skyrocket." I have no doubt Byrne will attempt his style of "helping" by resorting to the kinds of political tactics used by First Class Education. A memo circulated among lawmakers regarding the "political benefits" of the 65 percent solution reveals the real reason for the proposal. Allow me to quote just a few of the "benefits." Keep in mind that Byrne cares about our children more than we do.
"The Political Benefits of 1st Class Education
  1. Splitting of the Education Union. The 1st Class Education proposal naturally puts administrators and teachers at odds with one another with monies flowing from the former to the latter with its passage. Because most state education unions represent both administrators and teachers, the proposal will create tremendous tension within the organization. Every time the education establishment attacks this proposal, it hurts its standing with the public and the majority of its membership. Every day and every dollar the education establishment uses to defeat this proposal is a day and a dollar they cannot spend on other political activities.

  2. Direct Fix for Public Education. ...large segments of the voting public - especially suburban, affluent women voters - view these ideas as an abandonment of public education. Women in particular want public education fixed, not replaced. Once additional fixing and funding of public education can be achieved via the 1st Class Education proposal, targeted segments of voters may be more greatly predisposed to supporting voucher and charter school proposals, as Republicans address the voting public with greater credibility on public education issues"

  3. Establishes the Debate on Taxes and Government Spending. By highlighting the inefficiencies of education spending, far and away the biggest budgetary item in every state, the 1st Class Education initiative highlights the likely inefficiencies in all areas of state government. That's the percentage the Department of Motor Vehicles spends on administration versus direct service to the public?

  4. Allows the Use of Unlimited Non-Personal Money for Political Positioning Advantages. The aforementioned benefits can be achieved with funding in any amount and from any source. In the era of campaign finance limitation on candidates, PACs and parties, galvanizing an electorate via the initiative process is a tremendous opportunity.

  5. It Wins! As with initiatives proposing tax limits, term limits and the definition of marriage, ballot success for the 1st Class Education proposal is exceedingly likely. Moreover, the proposal can galvanize public political discussion, becoming a natural litmus test for candidates with the electorate its intuitive simplicity establishes either a beneficiary relationship with the voters or a noted disconnect based on the candidates support or opposition to the proposal."

Does any of this sound familiar? Did you notice any of these things going on during the Utah voucher campaign?

As you can clearly see, Byrne doesn't really care about your children or their education. (Not a bit surprised, I'm sure.) What he really wants is to 1) cause contention between teachers and administrators, a move, no doubt, that does an awful lot to help my children learn better in the classroom, 2) help us suburban, affluent women voters to see the light in terms of public education, 3) directly attack not just education, but the government as a whole, 4) get around election and campaign rules, and finally 5) insult us yet again. After all, we're stupid, and this will just pass right out, what with all the other things on the ballot that we care more about anyway.

We've proven already that these tactics don't work on us, yet Byrne and his friends are back at it in Florida. This goes to show that we can't let our guard down on these issues. (Hence the update on the whereabouts of Byrne.) Maybe this article will be useful to the people of Florida, who might see a little bit of Byrne this election season. They can be on the lookout for his political tactics and ready to record the outrageous comments he's likely to make. Does Florida have a Super Dell?


Anonymous said...

Wow, you are really missing the point. Your obsession with Patrick Byrne is embarassing. I just listened to Obama's nomination acceptance speech, a speech that promised a new and better tomorrow, a promise to change the old ways and look to the future. Byrne's message is similar and really quite simple -- to shake-up the old ways of education that are failing our children and to try new ways that will compel educators and parents to seek and demand the best educational options for children. Really -- at this time of promise and real hope for a better future, why in the world are you clinging to the failed ways of the past?

Sam E. Antar said...

You ask:

What is Patrick Byrne up to?

Patrick Byrne is running a smear campaign directed at his critics using paid shills such as Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

A few days after receiving $5,000, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff defamed me on behalf of CEO Patrick Byrne.

Taped phone conversations with Deputy Attorney General Richard Hamp and Chief Deputy Attorney General Kirk Torgensen confirm that Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff lied about me in an open letter to published Shurtleff’s open letter as part of a press release in an effort to discredit me.

Details are in my blog here:

Anonymous said...

In defense of Patrick Byrne, one of the largest elements leading to a education system posting diminishing returns is the strength of the teachers' union(s). Not to say that the union itself is problematic but the purpose of a union is to bring balance to the negotiation table between the company and its. When one side is excessively stronger, all parties involved stand to lose: either by a lack in skilled labor or a lack in corporate maneuverability.

In this case, teachers' unions have to deal with local school boards. These boards are among influential elected positions in our government since they represent our community in shaping the direction and quality of the education local students receive. Yet, the majority of Americans can't even name one person on their local school board. Its often populated by individuals not ready to tell the teachers' union, "no."

The result is that, in the process of the union protecting its base, bad and under-performing teachers are not eliminated. Often they are allowed to continue; any "correction" comes in the form of retraining. Teaching is a job of passion, you can't reteach passion.

What, I assume, Byrne is trying to accomplish is a situation where the teachers' union(s) must become leaner and provide more "bang" for the taxpayers' buck. This can only be good for our children.

65% may seem arbitrary but when a state's education budget rises drastically (through taxes) the teachers are the first to get that money, not the classrooms. You want to know why we are losing art and music programs, its because the money dedicated to those programs is being divvied up to increase the wages of all teachers; excellent and poor.

We tax payers need to be vigilant that our moneys are being spent wisely. Put simply, the union provides the carrot, it is the duty of the tax payer to provide the stick.