Wednesday, April 04, 2007

[Davis County Watch: Guest Bloggers] Utah PTA President Carmen Snow on Vouchers

I saw this over the weekend and thought it was very well done. I know Carmen Snow, and I admire her passion and intensity. Take a read. It was originally published in the Sunday edition of the Salt Lake Tribune.

Voters deserve a voice in the voucher debate

Carmen Snow

People may have different opinions about the value of vouchers, but Utahns are clear about wanting to be heard. People have said they want a chance to vote on this private school voucher experiment, but a few politicians - with their megaphones and media buys - are working overtime to try to dissuade people from participating in the democratic system. From the moment a group of concerned parents began to try to put the brakes on this misguided idea, some lawyers have been scuttling to find the loophole that says that voters don't really get a chance to question the judgment of "the political class."

I hope no one is discouraged from signing the referendum petition to repeal vouchers because they think it won't matter. It always matters when the voters make their voices heard.

Voucher advocates say the law can't be repealed. They say only parts of the bill can be repealed (elements such as funding and accountability). They say the only ones who will be hurt by the repeal would be the public schools.

The opinions of lawyers, even attorneys general, can be wrong. I know lawyers with arguments and evidence just as compelling who say an act of the people can overturn a law. They also tell me that amendments to a law can't stand alone when the law itself has been repealed, and that seems to make common sense.

The attorney general is right when he says this matter will end up in court. Hopefully this legal wrangle will help us determine whether or not the people of Utah have the right to be heard when the Legislature has made a mistake. Already the referendum petition process calls for an extraordinarily short amount of time to gather an extraordinarily large number of signatures. It would be a shame if the politicians win because the petition effort falls short.

I agree with the vast majority of Utahns: We ought to have a full and open debate about whether or not subsidies for private school tuition are right for Utah. We ought to have a chance to examine whether vouchers have fulfilled their promise in the places they exist. We ought to look more closely at the long-term consequences for public schools and families and communities across the state, and always keep the children's best interest in mind.

It's important to people living outside the state that Utah has a voucher system. Many believe it would help restore momentum to a "movement" that has seen voucher systems in Colorado and Florida rejected by state courts. They hope it helps people forget that despite vast amounts of money spent to promote them, vouchers or tuition tax credits have been defeated every time they've been on the ballot nationwide in the past 30 years. The national voucher movement has expended enormous capital over the past three decades, and has to show something for its money.

They need this voucher experiment to go forward in Utah. Some are afraid that a vote of the people will stop vouchers from happening. After all, in 1988, when Utah citizens had a chance to vote on income-tax credits for tuition paid by students already in private schools, they rejected the subsidies by 70 percent to 30 percent. Utahns for Public Schools believe there ought to be a counterforce to out-of-state money and interests. We believe that parents and others who care about the future of Utah's public schools and our children are that counterforce, and we believe we ought to be heard.

CARMEN SNOW is president of the Utah PTA.

Posted By Natalie to Davis County Watch: Guest Bloggers at 4/04/2007 03:00:00 PM


Anonymous said...

Right now the UEA and its front groups like the PTA are saying "Let the people decide." But if the people decide in favor of vouchers, the UEA and PTA will then say "Let the courts decide."

This has nothing to do with "letting the people decide." This is all about killing a sound program so the UEA can continue with their monopoly. The PTA was co-opted by the National Education Association many years ago. Can anyone remember the last time the PTA publicly opposed the UEA on anything of substance?

Natalie said...

FYI - PTA and UEA had opposing positions on a number of issues durring this year's legislative session. The two that come to mind are Tilton's Student Club Ammendments and Menlove's (I think)Professional Excellence (aka ProExcel).

So, while you are wrong that PTA is a 'front group' for UEA, you're right that they agree quite often. Most groups that really care about our kids DO agree quite often (School Boards, Educators, Superintendents, Principals, Parent Teacher Association, et al).

But PTA takes their marching orders from thier members (all 135,000 of them in Utah) and can only take a position on an issue if there is a resolution approved by members supporting that position.

It's easy to dismiss PTA as a UEA shill. It's just not true.

y-intercept said...

The UEA only wants the voucher system on the ballot because they lost the vote.

Of course the really big problem with ballot initiatives is that such initiatives generally are poorly written have horrible side effects. A super big question on this ballot initiative is if it was written by people who want the initiative to pass or want it to fail. You can make any initiative fail if you include with it a poison pill.

WP said...

I would like to suggest anonymous you do not hide any longer behind that smoke screen and adopt an identity of some sort. I find anonymous comments for the most part on blogs are the most negative and often the most controverted. Free yourself and develop a real identity!

Anonymous said...

If vouchers are voted down, the UEA and the PTA will target charter schools next.

Charter schools have had a free pass from the UEA and PTA, but that's only because the UEA has been targeting vouchers.

Natalie said...

I can't speak for the UEA, but I know that PTA's discussions on charter schools are the exact opposite of your predictions. I, for one, think charter schools are here to stay, and think that's a good thing.

Natalie said...

Y-intercept: This is not a ballot intiative. It is a referendum. The language will be "Should this law stand?" That's it. No poison pill.

Also, I was there when the vote was lost, and I know all about politics and sausage making, but this one was ugly. The law passed by ONE VOTE. Bills were being held hostage in rules. Representatives (especially from Utah County) were being "counseled" by the Lt. Governor. Hard. And, yet, try as I might, I can't call it unfair. In my opinion, everybody worked within the system (and how to change the system is a post for another day, but it starts with voting out the bullies and limiting the power of out of state interests).

And, now, Utahns for Public Schools is working within the system. And, if the referendum fails, taking the issue to court is also within the system.

I am not privy to much inside information on this one, but I do know that there is a large, well-informed, intelligent, motivated group of parents and educators who think this is the wrong direction for our schools and our children. And I hope they fight it until the end. They're fighting for our kids.

Anonymous said...


Can you provide documentation that publicly demonstrates that PTA supports charter schools? Can you point to something on their website that indicates PTA's support for charter schools?

How did the UEA and PTA take opposite stands on ProExcel? The UEA didn't actively oppose it as evidenced by the fact that the UEA's own legislators (Sheryl Allen, Steve Mascaro and the Democrats)voted for it.

Natalie said...

This anonymous thing is starting to bug - pick a name, dude!

National PTA has a new resolution supporting public school choice. You can find it on their webpage. Utah PTA's relationship with charter schools is evolving. I know of one charter school in Utah with a PTA (not O). I think, right now, it's a matter of outreach and understanding. If you've never been in a charter school, it is hard to tell what their needs and issues are.

And, in my opinion, it's pretty easy to see which charter schools are real believers in the concept and which few are just biding their time until they can collect the voucher money.

From my perspective, UEA was working against ProExcel pretty hard. Maybe you'll have to admit that Representatives Allen and Mascaro think for themselves. I've never thought otherwise.

Andrea said...


Why would charter schools want to collect voucher money? Charter schools get more than DOUBLE and close to TRIPLE the tax dollars per student than average voucher students would get.

Taxpayers would actually benefit tremendously if charters converted to private schools so their students could get vouchers.

The UEA doesn't like ProExcel, but they did not actively oppose it. We'll have to see if they put this on their 2007 scorecard (not yet posted on their website). If they put this on their scorecard, you'll be right. If they don't, I'll be right.

If Mascaro, Allen, and ALL of the Democrats voted for a bill that the UEA was working "pretty hard" against, this would be a first. Can you name one bill that the UEA was working pretty hard against that passed without one dissenting vote?

Marshall said...

This has nothing to do with charter schools and the voucher advocates scare tactics are absolutely pathetic. They can't defend vouchers so they make these outrages claims that hold zero water.

Natalie said...

Andrea - Although I normally hate them (because they are always telling me about my unsubstantiated leaps in logic) I wish the logical-fallicy police were here, because your argument about the UEA just doesn't hold water.

That said, I can't believe that I am going to convince you. Let me just tell you that the UEA members I know are virtuous and honorable, not union thugs, and agree or not (and I've done both) they believe that what they are doing is best for the children of Utah.

And, about charter schools - if the voucher law passes, I think the charter movement will be negatively affected. Parents in charter schools have already shown their dissatisfaction with the current system - many may be quick to take the voucher and jump. Also, the charter movement has spent the last how-many years teaching people how to start their own schools. If there is an increase in new private schools, who's going to start them? I see vouchers as a drain from ALL of our public schools, not just thetraditional ones.

Natalie said...

Sorry - in the above comment, I should have said "if the voucher law stands."