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Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Yes, It Was a Push Poll on Vouchers

Ballot language on the voucher referendum, a push poll, things I didn't tell the pollster, some relevant cartoons, and another thought or two.

The big, hairy monster of an issue in Utah's November election is Citizen's State Referendum Number 1. It is attracting millions of dollars of out-of-state money from both sides, because right now it makes Utah the front lines in the voucher wars.

Ballot Language

Here's the actual ballot language, according to the Utah Voter Information Pamphlet the state sent to my mailbox:

In February 2007, the Utah Legislature passed H.B. 148, Education Vouchers. This bill will take effect only if approved by voters. The bill:

  • Establishes a scholarship program for:
    • qualifying school-age children who newly enroll in eligible private schools; and
    • lower income school-age children who continue their enrollment in eligible private schools;
  • Provides for scholarships within that program of $500 to $3,000, depending on family size and income, increasing those scholarship amounts in future years; and
  • Allows school districts to retain some per-student funding for scholarship students who transfer to private schools.

Are you for or against H.B. 148 taking effect?

Thanks for asking. I'm for it. Vouchers are good for students, good for parents, good for teachers, and even good for the public schools. The only interest they're not good for is the teacher's union -- unions, actually.

Push Poll

I had a call Saturday from voucher opponents, using talking points thinly veiled as an opinion poll to sway my opinion. (That's a "push poll.")

How likely am I to vote in November? they asked. One hundred percent, I answered.

Am I familiar with the referendum? Oh, yes.

How do I intend to vote? I am firmly for the referendum, I said.

Do the Math

If they told me that Utah's per-student spending in public schools was the lowest in the nation, and class sizes are far above the national average, would that change my vote? Absolutely not, I said.

I did not say, but could have, that these are favorite statistics on one side of every education funding argument in the state. Our per-student spending rank doesn't matter generally because private schools can provide a superior education for one-third to one-half the per-student cost of public schools, so we know it's not a matter of money, pure and simple. They don't matter in this case, and neither does the class size statistic, because the voucher law would take some students out of public schools, reducing class sizes (if the schools really care that much about class size) but still leaving some of the money for those students in the public schools. In other words, class sizes shrink, and the public schools keep some of the money for teaching students who are no longer in those schools, so the per-student average goes up.

Meanwhile, for what it's worth, Utah's per-capita spending on public schools is nowhere near the nation's worst. Utahans have a lot of kids, on average, so there are fewer taxpayers to pay for more students. But you don't often hear that statistic.

100% Grade AAA Chutzpah

Next, the pollster asked if it would make me more likely to vote against vouchers if I knew that H.B. 148 doesn't allow for enough accountability on the part of private schools. I said no.

Given that the root of the problem here is the public school establishment's resistance to accountability in the public schools, this is brazen. How stupid do they think we are? Then again, they should know. They taught us . . .

One More Try

Finally, the pollster asked if I had any questions. I said, I have one. What is the exact ballot language? (I hadn't seen it yet.) So she read it to me. Then she asked, does this make you more likely to vote against vouchers? I wanted to say, "No, you just don't get it, do you?" But I said no, I'm still voting for vouchers, and I'm telling my friends. The call ended shortly thereafter.

At least she was polite.

Mallard Fillmore on Public Schools and Their Really Big Union

This one takes a little effort, since I have no budget to reprint comic strips here at the blog.

Before you proceed, for what it's worth, it is my considered opinion that you can laugh at the strips I point out without believing that there are no good public schools or public school teachers. (There are great ones.) The system itself is dysfunctional and resists accountability, but that doesn't mean every part of the system is incompetent or corrupt. That said, laugh away . . .

At the Jewish World Review's week-by-week Mallard Fillmore archive, you want to read the comic strips starting at the bottom of the page and moving toward the top, to get them in chronological order. Accordingly, start here by reading the second cartoon down, "If you can't read this . . . ," then the top one. To continue the sequence, read the second strip in the next week's archive, then the one above it (the top one). Finally, skip the bottom strip in the following week's archive, which is (by mistake) a repeat, and read the one just above it.

After all, it makes a lot more sense to say you support the students and the teachers, but not their union or their political machine, than it does to say you support the troops but not their mission.

Parting Thought

Even if vouchers win in the referendum, as they won in the legislature, watch for the NEA and the UEA, with their PTA and Democratic Party minions, to go to court to try to get the referendum overturned -- all in the name of the children, of course. When that fails, they will go to state and then federal courts to try to get the legislation itself overturned. Failing that, they will dump money into state house and senate races, to elect candidates who will repeal the program. It ain't over even when it's over, but a victory for vouchers in November will be an excellent step forward and may have a national impact.

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