A new group calling itself Utahns for Pubic Schools has recently jumped into the voucher debate to try and derail it with a voter initiative. Their goal is to get the voucher program recently passed by the legislature overturned by voters. This effort will do nothing but put egg on their face.
The big initial challenge will be getting just over 92,000 certified signatures to get the issue on the ballot. Anyone who's had any level of involvement with initiative petitions (present company included) knows that a significant number of the signatures will be disqualified for various reasons. Some folks think they're registered to vote but aren't, the registrations are inactive because they moved and didn't re-register, the information on the petition doesn't match the voter rolls… between the myriad reasons, you can count on at least 25-30% of the signatures being discarded despite your best efforts. This sets the bar somewhere around 110-120,000 signatures to pass the muster. Add the time constraint of 45 days to collect signatures and the task just got that much more difficult. What if you fail certification? Get ready to start all over from scratch.
Even if they pass that high hurdle, it's still an uphill battle. Since the state will be loathe to drop $3.5M on a special election, the soonest we're going to see this on the ballot will be November 2008. That's a lot of time to let the voucher program settle in and win more ground. Already Utahns are split almost exactly down the middle on the issue with the last poll in January showing a 48-46 split on the issue. The previous poll in December of 2005 showed the split being 40-54 for vouchers, so there's already been a strong swing towards the voucher camp. With that much time, you can bet you'll see a flurry of hyperbolic news releases, sensationalist news stories and mountains of PR money spent by both sides to try and turn that slim margin into a decisive one for either camp.
So what if voters sign off on the voucher bill? That certainly won't be the end of it. You can bet that if the legislature and the voters won't shut down vouchers, these groups will have no qualms about turning to the courts to declare the program unconstitutional. If they're so confident in that argument, however, why don't they just go ahead and file suit? For all the bluster, it seem that this is another one of the long-shot FUD arguments I've previously mentioned. It would certainly require less money and time to skip straight to the judiciary to settle the matter, especially with such a slim chance of getting a "the people have spoken" victory.
If these people were really interested in improving public education, why are they not spend their time proving how good the public schools are instead of spending millions of dollars and countless manhours on a Quixotic crusade to tilt the voucher windmill? I suspect it's because, once the crusade is over, they can go back to their normal lives of depending on someone else to do all of the work of educating children. Taking the high road of being actively involved requires a long-term commitment with no clearly defined end result. You can't say "game over, I won" when the job of actively improving education in meaningful ways is ongoing.
The alternative is the coward's way, the lazy man's way. It's preserving the status quo because the status quo doesn't expect much of you. Pay your taxes, make sure your kids show up at the building and wash your hands of the responsibility. These desperate actions show why education alternatives are even needed in the first place.