To Fellow Voucher Supporters

We lost. You know what makes it worse? We deserved it. We deserve the gloating and victory dancing from the opponents. Why? Because we let PCE run a filthy low-brow campaign and we didn't do anything to stop it. So now what?

Let's put this legislation to the side for a while. I know, it's really tempting to touch up the defeated bill and wheel it on out again, but we have some real work to do between now and then. We need to spend the next five years addressing all of the criticisms we faced this year.

We need to start founding high-quality, low-cost private schools. We got hammered on the cost of tuition, questions on accountability and standards, and availability in all areas of the state. As right as it is to force the accuser to back up their claims, we need to step up to the plate and take on this issue ourselves. There needs to be absolute transparency as to what certifications and credentials teachers hold. There must be regularly published reports on test scores like the ITBS (you know, the same one that public schools use). Financial reports should be provided to parents on an annual basis. If we really believe ourselves, that private schools can be so much better for a lot less money, we need to get out there and make it happen.

There also needs to be a pro-voucher group completely and totally unaffiliated with PCE and it's major donors. They screwed things up enough on their own. From low-blow "liberal boogeyman" advertising to cavorting with a know spammer and hatchet man, they proved themselves horrendously inept and clueless, easily doing more damage to the pro-voucher arguments than anyone else could have dreamed. (I almost wonder if they took campaign tips from Lavar Christensen.) We need real Utahns in this group, not wealthy out-of-state donors and local multi-millionaires. The "big money" label didn't stick to the NEA's $3M contribution but Patrick Byrne couldn't scrub it off with steel wool. It has to be totally grassroots from the get-go.

Lastly, we just can't talk our way past valid concerns. The switch rate and break even point are valid concerns. The price of tuition is a valid concern. Giving vouchers to upper-income families is a valid concern. Yes, this bill is the result of almost a decade of compromise, but I don't think the Republican-dominated legislature compromised enough. Giving inches here and there isn't compromise. A real compromise doesn't pass by a single vote. A real compromise is less ambitious and much more targeted.

Supporters, we have a lot of work to do. Let's get to it. 

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25 Responses to To Fellow Voucher Supporters

  1. Tyler Farrer says:

    Amen.

    The voucher debate, not vouchers themselves, has left a bad taste in my mouth. I’m completely fine with leaving this item along the side of the road for a while.

    Five years could be too soon.

  2. Jeremy says:

    Jesse,

    Well said. I’d probably support your voucher program. Paramaphil at Green Jello also has some good ideas about how to improve the next plan.

    My arguments against vouchers were always couched in the belief that something has to be done but that this plan had too many flaws. The fact that the pro-voucher campaign was run by ignorant fools didn’t really play into it.

    I agree with you that the correct course of action now is to prove the anti-voucher arguments wrong by changing current market dynamics. If a number of good private schools can be started that appeal to parents who want something better for their kids then school choice will have a much more compelling case for itself next time around. Some sort of a dent needs to be made in that ‘97% of kids go to public schools’ number. If private schools can be shown to be more main-stream some sort of public financing is much more likely.

    Something should also be done to ensure less of a connection between religious institutions and taxpayer funds. The idea of science teachers in parochial schools teaching creationism from the bible on the taxpayer dime always bugs me.

    Anyway…excellent post and thank you for providing the most sensible commentary from the pro-voucher point of view.

  3. Tim says:

    Nice post. I agree that with some changes the voucher law would have been more palatable. I wonder, though, if we haven’t lost sight of the real goal. Is the goal to have vouchers in whatever form we can get them? Is the goal to find ways to improve education? Is the goal to find ways to involve the private sector and jar the education system into action?

    Perhaps a more clear statement of what we want/need and what the real problems are would bring us back to the root issues we need to address and give us a fresh point of view. Some of these approaches and arguments are getting stale and the clearly wander from the main points.

  4. Jesse says:

    That’s a good point, Tim. Personally, I see the goal as multifold: reduce the pressure on public education by slowing the rate of enrollment growth, increase educational quality through innovating new institutions and get teachers back in charge of the classrooms, not administrators. My theory is that a voucher program done right should accomplish all three.

  5. Reach Upward says:

    Good points. You have some great suggestions. I agree with Tim that we need to clearly define what we are trying to achieve.

    But we also need to educate Utahns as to the true state of Utah’s schools. Utahns need to understand that what the recent Utah Foundation report showed: that Utah schools are fine when compared with the national average, but are very bad when compared with states with similar demographics. Utahns need to be pulled our of their illusion that Utah’s public schools are fantastic. Just as necessity is the mother of invention, dissatisfaction is the mother of innovation.

    Vouchers aren’t the only way to go, either. The CATO Instute has a good report ( http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=1251 ) that promotes education tax credits as a better solution than vouchers. Tax credits get businesses involved and spontaneously generate scholarship granting organizations. None of the money ever goes through the government.

  6. That One Guy says:

    Excellent post. Although I’m in the minority here, as an opponent in this debate, your comments are wonderfully level-headed and cogent.

    While the public education system is broken, voting for the first shabbily-conceived solution isn’t the answer. For me, using public money to provide an opportunity for “teachers in parochial schools teaching creationism from the bible on the taxpayer dime always bugs me.”

    That hits the nail on the head for me.

    The group that lined up the money and publicity for the supporters’ side was woeful in its execution of the campaign.

    As it got closer, and I saw just how volatile the debate was, I, and most, apparently, figured that if PCE et al was willing to go to this length, the stakes were somehow much greater than “what’s good for the kids…”

    I had to wonder who had so much to gain or lose personally on the outcome of this vote.

    Thanks for this great post. If this was the tone of the campaign, perhaps your side of it might have come closer, if not won it outright.

  7. Emily says:

    Holy cow.. I almost agree with everything you’ve said. From the get go, my concern with vouchers has been that it promised a solution to parents whose children would never be able to benefit.

    Becase… you’re right – there are no private schools in places like Cedar City, Beaver, Kanab, Delta, and the list goes on… If you want to implement a state-wide law, it has to work for everybody in the state.

    And please, can we quit making this a liberal vs. conservative issue — to me, this is where PCE and Patrick Byrne fall down. Quality education is a universal value that we all share. We all know and believe that an educated populace is the strength of our society. Quality education for our citizens is an American value, and we are all on board with supporting that value. As a nation we have decided education is important. We have to keep it at the top of the list. Making it the best in the world should always be our goal.

    i promise not to gloat. I do pledge to keep up the good fight to make all of utah’s schools great — yes, there are problems that need to be resolved, and I for one will be working behind the scenes to resolve them. If we can all have this goal in mind, and quit making education sooooo darn political, I think we will all emerge victorious.

    Best,

    Emily

  8. Jesse says:

    The poorly framed “us vs. them” is why I want PCE out of our hair. They’ve done little more than lower the discussion to encompass the worst elements of politics.

  9. Tom says:

    Jesse, thanks for expressing what was one of my major frustrations over the past year. Starting even before the legislative session and continuing through the summer, PCE continued to offend with their baseless attacks, half-truths, and ad hominem approach. I started graduate level marketing courses this fall, and from the outset it was clear PCE was ignoring proven business principles, to their detriment. Their actions made me seriously question the motives of hard-core voucher supporters, making it more difficult for me to believe that there are those on both sides who are deeply committed to securing quality education for all. It’s unfortunate. (Yes, I have some of the same concerns about certain people on the other side of the fence, but not in the same broad, sweeping manner.)

    And don’t give Towner too much credit. I suspect the only people he offended were those who already didn’t approve of his tactics.

  10. Dave Hansen says:

    Jesse,
    Based on your comments about the Referendum campaign I have to wonder how much experience you’ve had in political elections.

    You don’t win elections just on the merits of your arguments, especially when the other side has no problems using a publicly funded infrastructure and millions of union dues to spread lies and half truths, such as that the program “diverts” money from public schools or that the average private schools costs $8,000 a year.

    Just writing a blog isn’t going to win a campaign against an army of 20,000 public employees who have great influence over their friends and family.

    Concerning the “diverting” comments from the teachers union, the voucher program diverts money from public schools no more than building roads or not paying more in your taxes does. The voucher program does not still one cent of dedicated education funds.

    On the tuition issue, the Sutherland Institute did a survey of schools that actually plan to participate in the voucher program and their average came out to $4,500 a year, not $8,000. Furthermore, the average doesn’t matter. The real question is are there affordable private schools in Utah? And the answer is YES. More than half of the private schools in Utah cost less than $5,000 a year, but who in the press ever reported on this? it took PCE putting an ad in all the papers to draw attention to it.

    And even getting rid of a voucher for the wealthy would not have won this Referendum. The teachers union would still have attacked it as completely flawed. Don’t pretend otherwise.

    And concerning your comments about accountability and transparency, I have to wonder you ever read the bill. It requires complete disclosure of teacher credentials to parents and the public. Public schools only have to disclose credentials when the teacher isn’t certified.

    The bill also requires an independent certified public accountant to ensure that voucher money is used for tuition and that participating schools have enough working capital costs to cover 80% of their expenses in a quarter. Not even public schools meet this standard!! And do I need to remind everyone about the book scandal in Davis School District?

    In addition, the participating schools have to issue national, norm referenced test every year to it students and disclose all the results. Once again, public schools only do this in 3rd, 5th, and 8th grades. I would argue that this requirement is a much higher standard than the U-Pass of UBSCT. It means that voucher students are being compared to other students on a national level, and not just across the state.

    And concerning your call to start another school choice advocacy group outside of PCE, what were you waiting for? I would love for there to be several pro-voucher groups out there taking the heat for daring to stand up to the status quo, but blogging isn’t going to be enough. You’re going to have to put your money where your mouth is.

    But as a person who has donated to PCE, I’m a bit disturbed by your comments about PCE being an out of state organization… Last time I checked, their offices were in Utah, they were started by two Utahns, their board consists completely of Utahns, the majority of their donors are Utahn, and their number one donor in the campaign is a Utahn.

    Jesse, although I don’t doubt that you like the idea of vouchers, your entry and the comments it’s inspired almost sound like they were written by someone from Utahns for Public Schools.

    Shoot me an email when you get that anti PCE pro-voucher group going. I hope it goes well!

  11. Dave Hansen says:

    P.S.
    Please stop making the rural county arguments. If there aren’t private schools in rural areas, then you’d want to increase the demand for them in order to increase the supply. The voucher program would have done this.

    Furthermore, even if no private schools ever started in rural areas, the program would only benefit them due to its potential to save money.

  12. Jeremy says:

    Dave,

    The fact that you really think jesse is making arguments against vouchers in this post only shows that you haven’t the first damn clue what you are talking about.

    Read a few of the other voucher posts on this site and maybe your concerns about whether or not Jesse has read the bill will be resolved.

  13. rmwarnick says:

    The eventual goal of the pro-voucher interest groups is privatization of education and the virtual elimination of public schools, part of a broader right-wing privatization agenda. I have nothing against private schools– but they will have to function without any government subsidies. That’s the red line.

  14. Shauna says:

    Thank you, Jeremy.

    Dave… You’re awfully defensive considering that you’re preaching to the choir here. Jesse and I are both decidedly PRO voucher. Maybe you should get an idea of what you’re talking about before you fly off the handle. I had to laugh especially when you told Jesse to “stop making the rural county arguments”. These are not Jesse’s arguments. He’s simply saying that if we want to get a voucher bill passed (which we do) then we’ll need to find a way to address the concerns of the citizens that voted against Referendum 1. Makes sense, don’t you think? Especially since we all want the same thing: Quality education for children. If we want to convince others that vouchers is the way to go to accomplish this worthy goal, we need to find a way to prove that it does instead of just calling everyone stupid that doesn’t see or agree with your viewpoint.

  15. Jesse says:

    Dave: I’ve been involved in politics since I was old enough to vote. I’ve run three separate campaigns for office, have spent the last year fighting for UTOPIA and have served as a county chair for a third party both in Nevada and Utah. I’d say that I probably have at least a cursory understanding of the process.

    While campaigns have been traditionally run with plenty of dirty elements (including half-truths, ad hominem attacks and logical fallacies), I don’t believe for a moment that this low road is the best one to take. Take a look at the recent run for Salt Lake City Mayor. Sure, Becker and Buhler got in a few jabs at each other, but they managed to both conduct themselves with an appropriate level of decorum. That PCE decided early on to use the “liberal boogeyman” to play to the outsider stereotype of “red state Utah” gave me the distinct impression that they hadn’t the faintest idea who really lives here.

    When it comes to the tuition data, the biggest problem that everyone had with it is that we couldn’t see the data going in, only the data going out. I stuck up for Sutherland’s exclusion of the highest tuition schools as an appropriate use of means, but a lack of the raw data meant we could never verify their process or results. That was a big fumble that allowed opponents to easily pull out the “he would say that, wouldn’t he” argument.

    Yes, Dave, I’ve read the bill. Maybe you don’t recall, but I *did* happen to deflate the myth of no accountability, but we still need to address the concern of inadequate accountability. Certainly small steps like defining what common standardized test to use and more frequent financial reporting can’t be that objectionable. Neither can asking that private schools start to voluntarily start doing that now. The transparency only helps alleviate fears and provides verification that private schools aren’t going to be as bad as voucher opponents say. Where’s the flaw in that?

    I’ll agree that there’s no point in waiting to start a non-PCE voucher advocacy group even if no new legislation will be introduced for years. I know that blogging has a short reach and won’t fix what I think needs to be fixed. That said, I’m a regular guy with a regular job with a limited amount of time to spearhead causes. I’ve got my hands pretty full right now with UTOPIA advocacy (I’m actually at a subcommittee meeting all day today concerning it) so while I feel pretty strongly about the need for a non-PCE group to be advocating for vouchers, I don’t know that I can take on a second major crusade right now. I get the feeling, however, that you meant that to be a snark rather than a real suggestion.

    Dave, your response indicates what’s wrong with a lot of the pro-voucher side. Instead of listening to and considering criticism from opponents, you spend all of your time dismissing them. That’s not going to build more than a 1-vote majority the next time this comes around.

  16. Emily says:

    Jesse et al –

    I made the comment about rural schools because that was my biggest concern with the voucher thing, this time around.

    The promise of 148 was that it would reduce class sizes and keep money in the school… but in areas where there are no private schools and where the population is growing, it’s a double whammy– we don’t have anywhere for potential switchers to go and therefore don’t receive the benefit of a smaller classroom. So our classrooms do get bigger, nobody is leaving, and it goes on.

    I’m all for bringing *quality* private schools to the rural areas, if there is a demand for them. So far, we have not seen such demand. On private school came and failed in a relatively short period of time… mostly because it could not attract students.

  17. Rob Miller says:

    You won’t see any gloating by me. There is too much work to do.

    Green Jello made a great point, “I hope innovative education reform innitiatives don’t die with it.”

    Lets get to work.

  18. Dave Hansen says:

    I am being completely honest about you starting a non-PCE group to support vouchers. I think it would be wonderful and I have a hunch that PCE would appreciate having other groups form that aren’t directly associated with them. It would be a big plus for the school choice movement.

    And Jesse, I’m more than willing to compromise on any voucher program, and even on the voucher program that was voted on in Referendum 1, but a Referendum vote is not about finding compromises for a program that can only be changed in the Legislative Session. It’s about accepting a bill as it is.

    And the bill Utah passed was pretty good in my mind.

    I also want to reemphasize that even if the Legislature created a bill that only gave vouchers to poor kids in failing public schools and forced participating schools to have the exact same red-tape as public schools, the teachers union would still have fought it with just as much furor as they fought the voucher program that did pass.

    Perhaps you haven’t realized this yet, but it’s not about the money or the accountability for the education establishment, it’s about control. And every voucher program or tuition tax credit program you could imagine that would actually bring meaningful change and make a difference, will face the same opposition that HB 148 did.

    On top of that, in a referendum, all you have to do to win if you’re the no vote is cast a pinch of doubt in a voter’s mind. No one votes yes on something they’re not sure of. Can you tell me of a compromised-filled program that more than 50% of voters can’t find something in it they don’t like?

    Even many libertarians didn’t like HB 148 because they thought it was too intrusive. At the same time, anyone to center left thought it didn’t intrude enough.

    However, if you do manage to come up with a better bill and get it passed in the Legislature, I will be behind you 100% when the union forces it to a Referendum. I’ll donate what I can, I’ll put up yard signs, knock doors, and get my friends to vote for it.

    And I promise you that I’m being 100% sincere about this. When I wished you the best above, I wasn’t being sarcastic one bit. I might have been frustrated with some of your comments, but I was not being sarcastic.

  19. jess says:

    we’ve got some pro-voucher readers on our blog who would like this post. can i link directly to it?

  20. Pingback: Pursuit of Liberty » Blog Archive » After We Vote

  21. Jesse says:

    Dave: I guess we ended up talking past each other. My apologies. My concern is that if we want to try again with a voucher bill, we need to directly address and deflate the reasons that voters rejected it. I don’t think the voters stupid or uninformed, so I’m reasonably sure that this wasn’t as good a bill as I thought it was.

    jess: No permission needed. Just follow proper Fair Use guidelines.

  22. Cameron says:

    Jesse, thanks for some great analysis on vouchers throughout. It will be interesting to see what happens in the new legislative session in regards to education. Will the UEA’s of the world take the voucher smackdown as fuel for the status quo, or will they be humbled by it even getting this far?

    I hope the great dialogue that this voucher referendum created will continue so we can all deal with the challenges education faces, like increasing student population, getting better teachers, increasing new-hire teacher pay, increasing infrastructure costs and low test scores.

  23. Pingback: See Hear Speak No Evil » for my pro voucher readers

  24. Pingback: Pursuit of Liberty » Blog Archive » Step Forward on Education

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