Who really wants vouchers? Part I of II posted October 29th
The money & special interests behind the voucher battle in Utah.
The voucher debate on Capitol Hill in February was charged. Both viewing chambers were full to capacity. The House floor was overflowing with runners, camera operators and reporters. The chatter mostly entailed, "will this be the day? Will this be the year? " Depending on which side it was either, "please God no." or "please finally yes." Vouchers are heavily divided along party lines: Every Democrat in the house opposes and all but 10 House Rupublicans are in favor.
For the past five years a school choice bill has been debated on the Utah House floor and every subsequent year since its inception the defeat margin has narrowed. The Utah School Board and Teachers for Public Schools strongly oppose the idea because they believe it will ruin public schools by dividing students.
The strongest opponents to school choice were all on-hand watching with bated breath. Their sentiment was that if vouchers were to be approved it would be the result of Parents For Choice "buying off" enough legislatures to make their dream a reality. The choice for parents to decide where their child is educated is strongly opposed by teacher unions such as the N.E.A. and U.E.A. According to the opposition, supporting private, religious institutions with public money is unconstitutional.
Bradley Last, offered a compelling speech in favor of choice. Last serves on the Public Education Subcommittee and served on the Garfield Counry Board of Education before joining the State Legislature. Last said had voted down the measure the previous four years. Last began his remarks by saying, "I'm not really sure if I want to stand up or not... but I guess you have to face the music." Last went on to say, "Bills have been changed over time to pick some of us off, I guess you could say that is what happened [to me]....I believe that this is the right way to implement choice."
After the measure was passed with Last's swing vote there was atrium full of angry teachers being interviewed by the media. "We aren't going to stop fighting." I heard one teacher telling Rod Decker of KUTV news.
I set up my camera and teachers started lining up for interviews. Every teacher and school administrator I spoke to was convinced that school choice was destined to ruin public schools. In my ignorance of the issue I was having trouble putting two and two together. As Lisa Peterson said, " Private schools do not have to meet the special needs of kids...public schools have to. " I am still unable to understand this argument. If the government gives money to a private road construction company for black-top isn't the overall maintenance of the road still a government responsibility even if the work is contracted to a private company? The accountability argument doesn't fly because private school graduates consistently outrank public school graduates. It seems that private schools actually take the accountability of their students more seriously.
Lisa also said, "what we need to do is come together and not separate the money." As I was conducting the interview I I was reluctant to point out to Lisa what I had remembered just hearing in the House debate. That the money to fund vouchers would come from the General Fund not the public educational fund. The most the voucher could be written for would be $3000, which would save tax payers money and would only work to reduce class sizes in public schools.
Despite Lisa's gaff I was much more inclined to believe the teachers than Parents for Choice. I have found that special interest groups nearly always have a public agenda disguising a hidden agenda which is only revealed by following the money back to those who are supporting their initiative.
In my interview with Russell Skousen, Board Member for Parents for Choice my objective was to find out where they were Parents for Choice were getting their money. "So who funds your organization?" I asked Skousen. We are funded by parents who want the ability to choose what is best for their children's education," "unlikely," I thought. If this were truly a grass-roots campaign how could they have such deep pockets?
In the subsequent months Utah Stories has been working to get to the bottom of the issue. Who is really behind Parents for Choice? Who are the special interests funding them? What is really at stake with with the passage of Vouchers. Will they indeed cause irreparable harm to public schools? How will the law, if passed "ruin public education," according to the teacher unions.
The next segment (coming October 30th) unveil the research Utah Stories has conducted and the conclusions we arrived at. This report includes funding sources of Parents for Choice and Teachers for Public schools. What are their hidden motives? Why are those who fund them so interested in the passage of vouchers in Utah? (see part II)
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