Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Haloween Link Karma

Happy Halloween!

Just a quick post today, I'm afraid. I've been very busy with my day job, and not been able to blog about some of the things I've wanted to.

With that in mind, let me give you this "link karma round-up" of things I've been finding about the ongoing saga of the Utah School Vouchers:

One more thing.

Next week, November 8, is voting day. It's going to include more than just the voucher issue. Get out and vote, people! Make your voice heard!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Why are Utah Mormon's So Angry at Harry Reid?

A couple of days ago, Senator Harry Reid (D - Nevada) spoke at Brigham Young University (BYU) about the importance of public service. Since then, he's been the subject of scorn and ridicule on a few local and national talk shows. Not always by the talk show hosts, to be sure, but certainly by many of those who called in.

Some of them are screaming about how he's deserted his faith. Some even want his temple recommend revoked (as if they were his Bishop, for heaven's sake).

I don't get it.

I'm LDS (Mormon). I've read the transcript. He sounds like a Mormon, and a Democrat, talking to a group of students at a university owned and operated by the LDS Church, and mostly attended by Mormons.

What's the problem here? He hasn't disparaged any of the leaders of the Church, at least not beyond simple disagreement on political, not religious, issues. He even cited the exemplary public service records of many of the current Church leaders.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't agree with Senator Reid on many political issues. So what? That doesn't make a bit of difference to my understanding of his position within the Church. And let's face it. I'm not in a position to even determine what his church standing is or should be. I'm just a fellow member. I'm happy to refer to him as "Brother Reid" as much as call him Senator.

Are we really so embroiled in the whole "left wind vs. right wing" thing that we can't see beyond that? Are we really so entrenched in partisan politics that we can't see our common ground?

Are we really so worried about politics that we can't separate them from religion?

Come on, Utah. Aren't we better than that?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

President Bush Says CHIP is Too Expensive

Most of you know by now that President Bush has vetoed the expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). CHIP created a bridge between Medicare and standard health insurance programs. It was designed (by a Republican dominated congress when it first went into effect, BTW), to help those people who were making more money that was allowed to get medical help through Medicare, but didn't make enough money that they could really afford the health insurance offered through their employers, or were working for employers who didn't offer health insurance.

Bush said he vetoed the bill because it was a step toward "federalizing" medicine and that this bill expanded the program beyond its main focus on helping poor children.

The reactions have been mostly unsurprising. The Democrats quickly condemned the veto and several Republicans upheld it. What was a surprise was that several Republicans, including my own Utah State Senator Orrin Hatch, joined the democrats in their disdain for the veto. "It's unfortunate that the president has chosen to be on what, to me, is clearly the wrong side of this issue," he said.

While I understand at least some of the undercurrents against this bill, such as expanding care to the children of illegal immigrants and the increase in the amount of money going to fund it, I do not agree with them. I don't think we should penalize a child for the illegal activities of its parents. Out of pure humanitarian concern, we should help these kids. I also think there are plenty of places we could cut the budget so we could afford to pay for something so important.

Because this was a bi-partisan bill, I hope it can be overturned. It looks very possible in the Senate, but not so much in the House. They need 15 Republicans in Congress to change their minds before it goes back to a vote. Fortunately, the House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), said he won't bring it up for a vote until next week. That just might give them time to get the needed votes.

Things like this make me happy there are so many checks and balances built into our system of government.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

What's with Utah School Vouchers?

In case you don’t live in Utah, don’t follow national news, and/or live under a rock, you’re probably aware of the Utah school voucher program that’s being voted on for repeal – otherwise known as Referendum One.

Basically, the voucher law created a program where people can apply for assistance, in the form of a tuition reimbursement, to send their K-12 kids to a private school. Depending on financial need, it can be anywhere from $500 to $3,000. If I remember right, the money comes from a special fund, not the state’s general education fund. I could be wrong on this point. There were a couple of different proposals that got voted on. has posted quite a nice series of articles laying out the arguments, and the rebuttals, for both sides of the school voucher argument, and it’s worth the read.

This state law has received a lot of national attention from groups both pro-voucher, and con. It’s interesting to see just where the money for each side’s campaign is coming from, which Utah legislator received financial support from which group, and which way they voted.

Except for the amount of money and interest, there are no surprises as to the results. Pro-public school money went to the Democrats, who voted against the voucher bill, and the pro-voucher money went to the Republicans, who voted for it.

What was surprising to me was that the pro-voucher side actually got more money than the no-voucher side. Maybe that’s why it initially passed by a very tight margin – only one vote.

Most likely, I’ll be voting for referendum one. Overall I think it’s a good idea. The argument that is takes money away from public schools is bogus. Yes, this has been funded to the tune of $500 million, and that money could go to public schools. It could just have easily gone to public transportation, health care, or any number of projects.

Here’s some other interesting numbers for you. Utahans pay $7,500 dollars a year for each child in public school. We will only pay up to $3,000 a year for a child using the vouchers. That’s a net savings of $4,500+ per child to the tax payer.

'm not above spending more money on education, I just want to make sure that it's being used to teach children, not line the pockets of school administrators. From my perspective, Utah's schools haven't done a good job of using the money they've been given. For too long they’ve held a virtual monopoly on education, and I believe that has made them complacent, and bloated. There are far more administrators per teacher today than there were twenty years ago, and far less teachers per student. Administrators make more money and provide less direct impact on the students than a teacher does. Why do we need so darned many? I’m suspicious that we don’t.

One of the downsides to the voucher law is that it doesn’t help everyone. Yes, it’s targeted to the poor, but most private schools charge more for tuition per year than this bill allows for. That’s still more money out of pocket for the parents. That alone will keep most people from being able to use it. I see the middle class as benefiting the most from this bill.

There is room for contesting this in the courts, as well. It can be considered as government money going to fund religious institutions when it comes to religious schools. This is what struck down the previous voucher bill in Florida. Utah doesn’t have such a law, but the U.S. does. While I might argue the interpretation, personally, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld similar interpretations of the First Amendment.

What I’m hoping this bill will do is force our public school systems to rise up and improve their services. If they know they’ll be competing with private schools for students, they’ll need to deliver a better product.

Wherever you stand on the issue, I suspect the public vote on Referendum One will be a close one. Even though I’m in favor of the bill passing, I’m just fine with the idea that this got yanked from the legislature and put into the hands of the general public.

That’s where the choice belongs, anyway.