Utah School Vouchers- D. Sirmize's Take

Filed under:D. Sirmize, Guest, Web Log (Blog), Politics, Opinion — posted by D. Sirmize on September 17, 2007 @ 11:07 pm

Since Tyler’s August 26 post on school vouchers in Utah, several people have asked me to weigh in with my $.02 on the issue. Normally I’m more of a national and international politics kind of guy. But I have kids in public school now, so I should probably start paying better attention to local politics- especially when it could mean big changes for my kids’ schools. So I’ll change the channel for a moment from Headline News to KSL and set the Wall Street Journal aside and pick up (forcing back the dry heaves) the Salt Lake Tribune.

A little context first- just so you know where I’m coming from. Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I lean a little bit to the Right, politically speaking. Ok, anatomically speaking as well (my right leg is slightly longer than my left, which means I go through pairs of shoes as quick the government goes through my tax dollars). Being conservative, I have an intrinsic distrust of and disdain for government programs of any kind. This is because democratic government, by definition, is inefficient and ineffective. Believe it or not, that’s a good thing. The only efficient and effective governments are dictatorships. Unfortunately, this results in government programs- take welfare for example- that are bloated and misguided.

Government programs also tend to be run by bureaucracies fatally afflicted with Leftist groupthink. Modern American Liberalism (or neo-Marxism) bleeds into most government programs on both federal and state levels. This includes public education. The highest levels of Utah’s public education system are populated and run by social liberals. The school system is heavily influenced by teachers’ unions, which make up a sizable chunk of the Democratic Party. I am employed in a position that has me dealing with a smorgasboard of public education officials, school principals, and teachers intimately on a daily basis. Were I not writing under a pseudonym on this blog, my business relationships would be tense and strained.

The most troubling aspect the whole voucher debate for me is that I’ve met precious few people who actually possesses a clear understanding of the issue. People who lean Right tend to favor vouchers because they see public education as generally lacking and a voucher system theoretically gives the public a greater say in education. Left leaners tend to oppose vouchers because theoretically it amounts to government subsidizing of private enterprise and threatens the established system. Unfortunately, once a theory fits a person’s political framework, that’s usually where the thinking stops.

The heart of the problem is a combination of cultural misunderstanding and dubious politics.

Voucher proponents tend to look at the issue through the prism of business. In the private sector, a competitive atmosphere nets a better product. If something isn’t working, it goes under. It’s scrapped. It gives way to something better. The business world is fluid and ever evolving. Change is the only norm.

The exact opposite is true of government. Bureaucracies are innately resistant to change, and even the smallest financial and policy changes literally require an act of Congress. Because the overall structure and purpose of government is so different from the private sector, the concept of competition doesn’t apply the same way. Voucher opponents tend to approach the issue from a government standpoint.

Since private sector enterprise and public administration overlap in the arena of education, the framework for the debate is flawed. We’re comparing apples to oranges in order to describe grapes. Neither side can understand the other- and neither seems to want to.

Misunderstanding leads to heated debate. And just as a basketball team may resort to throwing elbows and flagrant fouls in a down-to-the-wire fourth quarter, both sides of this political battle have resorted to nasty tactics.

No, I don’t think Utah’s schools are as great as many, including Tyler, think they are. But it doesn’t help the pro-voucher cause that it’s primary media proponents are resorting to religious intimidation and out of state funding from phantom interest groups.

Conversely, Utah’s school system certainly isn’t as bad as many voucher proponents think it is, but it doesn’t help that much of the push to kill the voucher program comes from the decidedly liberal National Education Association, out of state unions, and other liberal activist groups.

The caricatured activists on the front lines of this debate further solidify the unresearched opinions most voters have on this issue. Further aggravating the fight is the issue of precedent. Utah is now the battleground for national education debate. Hence the pervasive involvement of out of state interests. Everybody- not just Utahns- seems to have a dog in this fight.

So where do I stand? I think Utah schools are generally well run. They’re well organized and run by good people with a passion for education. I admire most everybody I deal with in the education establishment. When I send my child to the bus stop every day, I know he is in good hands.

My beef with public education lies only in the politics. I despise the fact that public education is so deeply influenced by Marxist ideology. I was outraged when several Utah school districts refused to mention 9/11 on its six year anniversary. I was very frustrated that my elementary student’s class last year had 32 students in it and total chaos was only avoided when several parents per day volunteered in the classroom. Most of my child’s papers came home having been graded by me or some other parent. I hate that Utopian concepts of multiculturalism and diversity are given higher priority than accountability and individualized instruction.

That said, a voucher system- at this time and in this form- is not the answer. I predict that the referendum will fail (because referendums in Utah have historically failed- even hotly-debated ones) and that the passed voucher legislation will be implemented. But it will be ineffective and inequitable, for the very reasons Tyler mentioned in his post. There is no need to rehash the points he’s articulated.

But let’s consider a heretofore unexplored aspect of the issue. The voucher system will not only hurt public education, it will also be the long term downfall for private schools. Many studies suggest that taxpayer-funded voucher systems will likely increase the cost of private education. One must also consider that no money has ever come from government without strings attached. Many private schools worry that vouchers will effectively turn private schools into de facto public schools, essentially stripping them of the things that made people want to send their kids there in the first place. Private schools will become dependent on public money and will eventually subject to government regulation. That prestigious Catholic private school might someday lose it’s religion.

I’m not sure there’s any way now to clarify the argument this late in the game. It’s unfortunate that the issue is so politically charged. The spin from both sides has clouded the facts, and honest dialogue has given way to malicious rhetoric. It’s sad that neither side is willing to appeal to the other by simply laying out the facts, divorced from politics and ulterior motives.

Brace yourselves, my friends, we’re in the fourth quarter. It’s going to get even more interesting.

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A Crisp, Clear Tuesday

Filed under:D. Sirmize, Guest, Inspiring — posted by D. Sirmize on September 11, 2007 @ 7:47 am

I don’t like to think about 9/11.

Probably for the same reason I don’t like waking up in the morning. Not because I am depressed or don’t want to face the day. I’m just fine once I open the door and dash out for my morning run. It’s getting to that point that’s the problem. I dread waking up in the morning probably because I enjoy sleep so much and I don’t think I get enough. It’s hard to leave the warm, comfortable world of sweet slumber.

But I do, every day, because I have to.

I don’t like to think about 9/11 and I don’t think I’m alone. As Americans, we enjoy the comfort of our every-day lives. The human mind likes to pretend problems don’t exist. Perhaps this is a survival instinct. I loved the perceived innocence of the pre- 9/11 world, that slumbering twilight before the alarm went off- the calm before the storm.

It’s been six years. Long enough to get used to the security inconveniences at airports, long enough to be ok with the provisions of the Patriot Act, long enough that our nation at war is the rule, not the exception.

Long enough that I don’t really need to think about 9/11 as much anymore. Gone are the days that I worried about the national Terror Threat Level. Gone are the days that I worry about flying. I still realize the short and long term threats of Radical Islam, but it’s late enough in the day that the nightmare of 9/11 begins to fade.

It was six years ago today, on a crisp, clear Tuesday morning. It’s time to wake up again.

I left too early this morning to talk to my first grader. I wanted to remind him that today is a special day. I hope they mention it at school, but I won’t be surprised if they don’t.

You’re probably reading this at work. Chances are you’ve got a decent Internet connection. Watch the towers fall again- the footage is out there. Shut the office door and listen to the emergency dispatch tapes. Take your phone off the hook for an hour and listen to the cell phone calls from planes. Listen to the victims speak their last words as the towers collapse. Watch it. Listen to it. Relive the horrible catharsis. Forget 9/11 and the American Spirit will fade with it.

Wake up.

Here’s a good place to start.


The above phrase in Arabic is “lan astaslem.” It means “I will not surrender/I will not submit.”

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