Post-Referendum 1: Toward an Improved Education System in Utah

With vouchers defeated in the recent election, and having been a supporter of Referendum 1, I am not nearly as discouraged as I thought I would be. Probably it's a lot because we on the losing side did not get neener-neenered nearly as badly as I had expected, and I appreciate that. I've been pleased by the mostly very mature discussions that have proceeded since the referendum on Tuesday.

The biggest takeaway that everyone on both sides can enjoy is that we are all sincerely interested in improving the education that we provide for our children. Emily, on Utah Amicus, said
As citizens of Utah and more importantly as human beings, we know that education of our children is the most important thing we can do for our country. I believe more than ever that crusaders on both sides of this debate have one common goal: to provide the best possible education for our children. I hope the voucher debate has brought us together, instead of pull us apart.
Jesse, over at Coolest Family Ever, had a very magnanimous (except for correctly lambasting Parents for Choice in Education) way of looking at the issue from the perspective of the 38% who voted for Referendum 1:.
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.
I completely agree.

Jesse continues:
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.
Steve Urquhart represented the legislature very well with his comments, and we can only hope that the rest of the legislature exhibits such grace and aplomb.
Along with some silliness on both sides, we had some of the best public dialogue we’ve had on education in a very long time. Though over-the-top commentary frequently gets reported and facile or fictional talking points find legs, I enjoyed many tremendous conversations with (often tremendously informed) individuals, both favoring and opposing vouchers. Those conversations involved people earnestly trying to figure out how to best educate our children.

I’ve received many calls and emails. Surprisingly few suggest that I throw myself off a cliff. Most (from both sides of the issue) said they enjoyed the debate and hope that we can use the increased attention to further improve education in Utah. My sincere appreciation goes out to everyone who gave their time to engage in the political process.
Although I can see and in a small measure understand Jen's concern at Jen's Green Journal that some others in the legislature might try to be vindictive in this case as it has appeared to be in others.

I'll admit that I voted for vouchers despite the warts I saw. I hoped that we could enact the law and later fix the problems that I saw, such as:
  • Creating an income cutoff at which families no longer qualify for the voucher.
  • Making it so that more children on the lower end of the scale would actually be able to use vouchers.
  • Ensuring that public education doesn't get stiffed out of all the money saved by the state when a student leaves the public schools.
  • Ensuring that voucher savings really can reduce class sizes and increase teacher salaries instead of just hoping that they might.
Some people, such as Don, Craig, and Jeremy, took an opposite approach from me, and they voted against Referendum 1 because, although they support vouchers in principle, they saw many of the same problems I saw, and perhaps more.

When it comes right down to it, we should remember that we are Utah. We are the best state in the Union. We enjoy living here, and we enjoy improving our quality of life in all areas.

Just because we don't agree on a particular solution for something doesn't make us enemies. I have been worried that it would. For the most part, though, I think we showed that even in the greatest of controversies, Utahns can be gracious and respectful of opposing viewpoints.

So let's move onward and upward--together. The dialog has just begun.


Comments

  1. I appreciate your well-thought-out words, Frank. When I originally heard of vouchers in Utah several years ago, my initial uneducated response was, "no way, we do not need another tax cut for the wealthy." I imagine there are many who voted "no" this week with the same lack of understanding. Recently I spent time studying the issue and after learning more about the "real" vouchers, I ultimately decided against it not because of the union's excuses, but rather due to the same arguments you mentioned above and therefore chose against it. I really appreciate the open dialogue on both sides of the fence. Chad.

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  2. Frank, did you miss my flaming Oreo on election night?

    In a more serious vein, I never saw this as primarily about improving Utah education, public or private. For me, it was about preserving democracy from special interests.

    We had a group of Michigan-based millionaires trying to make Utah the laboratory for a far-right social experiment, at our own expense. They bought enough Utah legislators to make it happen.

    It was a miracle the UEA and like-minded people could rally and stop it.

    Back in 1998 I worked hard to fight Proposition 5, which amended the Utah Constitution to pre-emptively stop Utahns from being able to use the initiative process to reform Utah wildlife policy. We got beat, by special interests spending over a million bucks on TV ads full of falsehoods (we had no TV ads).

    I'm under no illusions. Our corrupt, one-party legislature will get revenge-- maybe by making it even harder to get a referendum on the ballot. In the long run, the people will get beat. So I'll enjoy this rare victory.

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  3. Chad,

    I've been thinking (not in detail, by any means) that it might be worthwhile for the legislature to do something either at the local level or targeted more specifically to low-income families. I'm a computer programmer by trade, and big computer projects are more likely to fail. Perhaps if we started smaller with vouchers we could find out what the problems are before they become pervasive.

    Richard,

    I did see your post the next morning. Did you 'photoshop' the image? It's pretty cool! I agree there with what you said about Patrick Byrne: I have said here on SUMP before that I don't think he made racist comments, but I do agree that he is an insensitive dolt by saying Utahns failed an IQ test.

    Let's just say, you are probably right about the legislature's revenge, but I will be very disappointed if/when something like that occurs.

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  4. The flames are actually a nighttime photo of a burning Christmas tree, believe it or not. Despite the PCE commercial, I still like Oreo cookies ;-)

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  5. "For me, it was about preserving democracy from special interests."

    So, the NEA is not a "special interest"? How odd.

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  6. Reach,

    I agree. There were special interests involved on both sides of this issue. It's not fair to single out just one side.

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