Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Results in State School Board District 13 and double-disenfranchisement shenanigans?

First, I was wrong in my prediction that vote totals for State School Board District 13 would be significantly lower than the 2004 election. The unofficial results (pg. 3, lefthand column) show just a few hundred fewer votes than the race in 2004. Kyle Bateman defeated C. Mark Openshaw with 17,509 votes. I hope the almost 300 votes not for either candidate on the ballot were mostly write-ins for A. LeGrand Richards, the highly-qualified BYU professor excluded from the ballot.

However, my frustration with the apathy and lack of communication demonstrated by Bateman and Openshaw, as well as the entire school board candidate selection process, has been confirmed by subsequent events. In a minor, but indicative Election Night note of the silly process that allowed seven businessmen not living in District 13 to choose our candidates, Openshaw confirmed my suspicions that the candidates represented the same viewpoints: "I know Kyle well," he said. "I like him. We agree on many things, and so I give him my full support." And in keeping with the theme of his successful campaign, it appears that Bateman was the only victorious candidate in Utah County who did not return the Daily Herald's phone call after winning election on November 4th.

But the Tribune yesterday revealed that the situation has become even more sneaky and non-representative.
Bateman said he has two homes -- one in his district in Provo and one that his company bought as an investment outside his district in Mapleton. He said he intended to live in the Mapleton home for a time and sell it eventually while keeping the Provo home as his primary residence.

In his letter, however, he said he sought private counsel, who recently told him the law "would not likely support" that arrangement.
So he was going to move out of the district he was elected to represent to "eventually" return to his "primary residence" as soon as he was able to profitably flip that investment home in today's market, and he honestly thought that was no problem? I personally have trouble giving credence to the assertions that Bateman: A. sincerely believed that his living arrangement would meet state requirements and B. that this belief was "recently" disabused by private counsel so he could conveniently withdraw on the last possible day. If he cared about serving, why couldn't Bateman stay in his Provo home that is ostensibly his primary residence? He is apparently financially secure enough to own two houses, so living in the Mapleton house is a personal preference rather than a necessity in order to sell it. I also have trouble believing that Openshaw did not know this was coming.

So voters in my district were subjected to a political farce on two levels. First, they were arbitrarily denied the opportunity to have the most qualified candidate, A. LeGrand Richards, on the ballot, and second, the two candidates chosen to be on the ballot refused to campaign...literally. Neither Bateman nor Openshaw spent one penny on their campaign beyond the $15 filing fee. They didn't return phone calls and emails from organizations asking their positions and even voters in their district.

They expect us to believe that they somehow knew, independently, that they wouldn't need to spend any money or even respond to questions to win an open State School Board seat? They just assumed the other guy wouldn't campaign either in a year when increased scrutiny has been paid the board because of the voucher dispute and the faulty selection process? They "would love to have served," but put forth no effort to campaign in a district where the winner in 2004, Tom Gregory, spent $300 dollars of his own money to buy signs? The district was important enough to local politicians in 2004 that the defeated candidate, Brian Woodfield, raised over $1000 for flyers and signs from Becky Lockhart, Curtis Bramble, and Micron (i.e. Stan Lockhart), and the voters are supposed to believe that those political interests just went away? Bateman has close associations with PCE through his position on the Children First Utah advisory board, and they didn't donate money to a candidate in need? (I don't know if the PIC Development that Bateman was chair of is this PIC Development based in Orem Utah, but the lack of specifics and "Board of Sages" sound vaguely Koerberian. And Bateman's house flipping "investment" that is more important than the election he just won seems vaguely similar to "equity milling"... I bring that up because PIC Development is still the job listed on the CFU website and he is now president of Action Target, Inc. (I think that's him in the middle of the top picture) and holder of several shooting equipment related patents...which then makes absolutely no sense as to why he would be forced to live in the Mapleton house "his company bought as an investment.")

So a lot of things don't add up here. Why would two apparently competent and successful businessmen, both in high CEO/President positions, run apathetic, careless campaigns that actually alienated any of their constituents that did any research? How could they not post one sign, deliver one flyer, walk one neighborhood, or even answer an email inquiry? They could not have become successful in business if this was their normal persona. (Openshaw's company actually specializes in facilitating communication!) How could they have honestly thought they had a chance to win the election with such a campaign if they didn't know that their "opponent" was going to do the same thing?

Furthermore, why would Bateman's shooting supply company even be involved in real estate flipping and why would that force Bateman to move to Mapleton? How long has Bateman known he would be moving? Why did Bateman continue running at that point? He is the president of the company and just won election to state office--does anyone believe he could not stay in Provo if serving on the school board were important to him? How big and how nice is the "company" house in Mapleton that the company president is going to live in "for a time" that Bateman values the move more than the public service he ostensibly sought? Why wait until the last day of vote certification to make that decision public? Why move your family at all if you're just going to sell the house anytime in the near future?

I don't believe either Bateman or Openshaw is that clueless. I think the circumstances point to exactly what current State School Board Member, Kim Burningham, and excluded candidate, A. LeGrand Richards decried in the Tribune article...a willful collusion to ensure neither candidate had to face Richards on the ballot. The initial faulty process gave us two candidates with similar views, eliminating a choice for the district's voters. Bateman planned to move to Mapleton, whether before or after he signed his oath that he met residency requirements upon filing for candidacy on March 17th, I don't know. (Though I think that ownership of a home in Mapleton by either Action Target or Kyle Bateman and the date purchased would be part of public tax records...) Bateman knew that the next highest choice of the selection committee, A. LeGrand Richards, who differs philosophically from Bateman and Openshaw, would be put on the ballot if he dropped out--this was confirmed as the public education choice in District 11, Ralph Haws, who also finished third in committee rankings behind two voucher supporters, almost replaced Ted Heap on the ballot over a finance reporting mix-up. There was contact between Bateman and Openshaw in order to communicate the plan, i.e. that Bateman would remain on the ballot and that neither needed to waste any time or money campaigning since the result was a foregone conclusion.

This is admittedly conjecture, but I don't know how else you can spin the actions of these two intelligent men. I would love to hear their explanation for their non-campaigns, their non-responsiveness, and how much they honestly communicated before, during, and after the election. I don't think a run-off election would be allowed or cost efficient, but a run-off between Openshaw and Richards would be the best way to allow District 13 voters a real choice of representation on the State School Board. Are there any provisions for something besides appointment if extenuating circumstances are found to exist...such as a candidate willfully misrepresenting his intention to abide by residency requirements of the office?

Tribune Article: Kyle Bateman "discovers" he lives out of area and declines State School Board 13 position


I underlined a couple of important passages of the article.

Key Questions that might be answerable: When did Kyle Bateman know of his residency problems? It appears to be a situation where he knew about this for some time. Did C. Mark Openshaw or others know of the probable outcome of the residency problems?

Key Question that we'll never know: Did Kyle Bateman seriously think it was OK to move outside of the district he was elected to represent? He signed an oath that he did...

Snarky, but relevant question: Does Mark Thomas of the Lt. Governor's office really think it's OK for candidates to lie on their oath and that it's up to others to challenge those assertions?! For example, how would one possibly prove that a candidate did or did not know of the residency requirement they were apparently planning to break soon after being elected?

State ed board race winner drops out
Residency » Worried he didn't meet requirements.
By Lisa Schencker
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 11/17/2008 07:18:01 PM MST

The winner of a recent state school board race has decided not to take his seat because of problems related to residency requirements.

Kyle Bateman, who won the race for the District 13 board seat two weeks ago, sent his letter of resignation Thursday. His opponent in the election, C. Mark Openshaw, will now likely take the seat, said Mark Thomas, administrator at the Lt. Governor's Office.

"This is just me trying to follow the law," Bateman said. "I would love to have served but I didn't want to get up there and find out there was a problem and create controversy."

Bateman said he has two homes -- one in his district in Provo and one that his company bought as an investment outside his district in Mapleton. He said he intended to live in the Mapleton home for a time and sell it eventually while keeping the Provo home as his primary residence.

In his letter, however, he said he sought private counsel, who recently told him the law "would not likely support" that arrangement.

Bateman said the confusion was due to a misunderstanding. State school board member Kim Burningham, however, said he believes Bateman purposefully waited until now to drop out.

"They knew this ages ago," Burningham said, referring to the residency problem, "and they have just purposefully manipulated it."

Burningham said he believes Bateman waited until now to drop out to prevent other, possibly anti-voucher candidates from appearing on the ballot. A total of six people originally vied for the seat. Those six names went to a governor-appointed committee, which narrowed the list to three candidates, ranked in order of the committee's preference. The governor then chose the top two ranked candidates to appear on the ballot.

Had Bateman dropped out after today -- the day election results become official -- the matter might have gone to the governor or to court, Thomas said.

Had Bateman dropped out much earlier, Openshaw might have had to run against the committee's third-ranked choice, A. LeGrand Richards, chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Foundations at BYU.

"The democratic process has been totally sidestepped," Richards wrote in an e-mail Monday. "Voters were not allowed to decide on the candidates in the first place and now their choice doesn't matter either. It looks like a great way to stack the deck."

Bateman said he did not purposefully wait until now to withdraw to cut anyone out of the race.

"I don't know anything about that," Bateman said. "I'm not trying to play the system. I have nothing to gain from doing this."

Openshaw, co-founder and president of AirComUSA, a fax and business services company in Provo, said he also thinks Bateman's withdrawl was due to an honest misunderstanding.

"I don't think there's anything nefarious about it," Openshaw said. He said he thought Bateman would have made a good board member, but he'll take the seat if that's what state officials recommend.

Thomas said candidates sign an oath when they file for office stating that they meet the requirements, and it's up to others to challenge those assertions if they feel them to be untrue.

Several lawmakers and the governor are now pushing to change the election system to so voters directly elect board members instead of first sending the names through a committee and the governor.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Vouchers absolutely are a voting issue... Selective memory and posturing aside


The relevant summary:

Congressional or legislative incumbents generally tout their experience and “stand by their record,” trying to impress voters with the issues they supported and bills they sponsored. This is common and important. We judge whether the legislator represented us adequately and honestly and decide whether to vote for them or not. The current legislative races are following this pattern except for one thing which many incumbents just want you to forget as a “non-issue”…vouchers.

The polls showed that the public overwhelmingly rejected the concept of private school vouchers before, during, and after the referendum debate. The legislators who sponsored and voted for vouchers knew the public in general disliked the idea and knew who their dependable campaign donors were.

The legislators then strangely formed their own lobbying fund and lobbied the public using slick Utah Taxpayers Association materials, getting reimbursed for their time, mileage, etc. from the funds donated principally by Patrick Byrne.

In fact, due to lack of grassroots support, Patrick Byrne provided almost all of the funding for PCE’s entire pro-voucher campaign.

Many, many voucher supporters of all stripes based their financial arguments on falsehoods.

The public strongly rejected the flawed idea in the referendum vote. Voucher supporters, both within the legislature and from the general public, proceeded to insult 62% of Utah voters who just “didn’t understand” vouchers and were “afraid.”

The point:

But you are supposed to forget all that and just “move forward.” The voucher vote was a year ago and is not relevant to the election today. Punishing legislators would be wrong. Just look at their record…except for vouchers. After years of stagnation, they voted to actually educate the large percentage of new student growth as well as increase school funding during two of the three largest budget surplus years in the history of the state of Utah, so all that other stuff doesn’t matter…especially vouchers. Forget the fact that more moderate legislators would have voted for those same measures AND listened to their constituents by rejecting vouchers. And really, you shouldn’t evaluate many incumbents’ entire anti-public-education attitude continued by the omnibus bill, corporate-handout laptops for preschoolers, $190,000 a year spent on additional bureaucracy just to spite a State Board of Education employee who dared run for public office against Greg Hughes, and successful manipulation of the State School Board election process. Ignore the double standard when candidates rightly disagree with their opponents' records, but expect you to ignore theirs. (That is an affliction common to all politicians of all political parties, but especially prevalent this year in regards to vouchers.) And ignore the extremism dominating much of the public policy discussion in our legislature, such as Senator Stephenson believing public education is "socialism." (The last two paragraphs of the post.)

Speaker of the House Greg Curtis has said vouchers are dead under his watch. Senate President Valentine said he thinks Utah voters would “support vouchers with the right information.” (i.e. bad numbers and propaganda…) Both my House Rep. and my State Senator have told me they would vote for vouchers again if it came up. People in the audience at the Utah County Republican Convention this year agitated for vouchers, and the only organization I remember having a booth in the display room along with the candidates was Parents for Choice in Education. That group continues to pour out-of-state money into legislative races this year to further their agenda. But don’t worry. Just trust your legislator that it will be all right. House Majority Whip, Dave Clark, for example:

"I don't know why folks keep dragging (the issue) up," Clark said. "To waste so much time looking backward when we have so many challenges ahead of us is a poor, poor direction."

Learning from the past is poor judgment. Got it.

Education is a voting issue! It is a cornerstone of our democracy and accounts for over half of the tax money spent in this state. Vouchers are a wealthy subsidy that would erode that funding for public schools. Basing a large part of your voting decisions on the differences between candidates’ positions on education—including vouchers—is prudent morally and financially. Don’t listen to vague name-calling and discussions of “one-issue” voters meant to divert attention from the many dismal legislative records in support of public education.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

September Tribune article detailing some of PCE's donations to candidates in '08 legislative races


All of the underlined passages, italic text, and the extra comment in brackets were added by me:


Voucher battle carries into this year's elections
Article Last Updated: 09/10/2008 10:10:45 PM MDT

Posted: 9:40 PM- The echoes of last year's voucher fight are still ringing, as both sides in that pitched battle continue to slug it out in this election.
Parents For Choice in Education, the leading backer of the failed voucher proposal, has spent nearly $200,000 on expenses such as polling, mailers and fundraising in an effort to defend legislators who championed their cause, including endangered House Speaker Greg Curtis.
"We continue to be supportive of legislators who work for [education] solutions and vouchers are one of them," said Judi Clark, executive director of Parents for Choice in Education. "We don't want last year's defeat . . . to be a catalyst to stop them from doing the great work they are doing."
Nearly 99 percent of the $222,000 Parents for Choice raised came from two sources: Overstock.com entrepreneur Patrick Byrne and Michigan-based advocacy group All Children Matter.[I.E. Patrick Byrne, Amway, and Wal-Mart are still fighting for vouchers in Utah.]
The Utah Education Association, meantime, has invested nearly $100,000 this year, much of it going to the campaigns of challengers looking to knock off the same legislators PCE is defending, and mobilizing its troops for the ground war.
"We're going to be as active as we can afford to be and we're going to play in races where we feel our involvement can make a difference," said Vik Arnold, director of government affairs for the teachers' union.
Parents For Choice, meantime, spent thousands of dollars on phone banks to identify potential voters and raise funds for their legislative backers. The group provided more than $5,000 in phone banks and voter lists to Curtis and gave a $2,000 contribution to Senate President John Valentine.
Legislators like Reps. Craig Frank, Steve Sandstrom, Steve Urquhart and others received phone bank services, and more than a dozen others received direct contributions to their campaign.

The group's biggest expenditure was $105,000 spent on polling between the months of February and June. Clark said the group was testing the public's response to various education reforms and also doing some voter identification work.
"We were really seeing in Utah what are people's major concerns and what are some ideas" they would be receptive to, she said.
The group provided more than $7,000 in phone bank calls to try to get out the vote for Rep. Glen Donnelson and Rep. Paul Neuenschwander, but it wasn't enough for either to make it through the primaries. Each lost to his UEA-backed Republican opponent, Ryan Wilcox and Becky Edwards, respectively.
"We're obviously sad to lose Representatives Donnelson and Neunschwander. They'd done good things for education as well as all of their constituents," said Clark.
Rep. Carl Wimmer said Parents for Choice set up phone banks to help his campaign raise money to help stave off a challenge from Dave Hogue, a former Republican legislator who changed parties to run for his old seat.
Wimmer said he expects Hogue to try to beat him up over his support for vouchers, but he says it will "be a non-issue."
"I won my last election with 66 percent of the vote and I campaigned in favor of school choice. Everyone in my district knew I supported school choice and they voted for me," he said. "So its obviously not as big of a wedge issue as the Democrats and my opponent think it is."
UEA, meantime, bought $1,000 worth of signs to help Hogue's campaign.
In many cases, the UEA-backed candidate was running against an incumbent who had voted for vouchers.
"For the most part, it is fair to say that [the voucher vote] was a litmus test, it always has been and it will continue to be," said Arnold.

As you research the State School Board candidates, find out how and by whom they were chosen. Talk to your legislator about reform.

Many of the hits on this blog recently are from people searching for information on candidates for the State School Board. I am going to link you to excellent resources for finding more out about your candidates (If you are in State School District 13, you can read on this blog 3 posts within the last few days about the candidates in our district.), but just as importantly, I am going to ask that you spend 20 minutes to read the history of how the State School Board election process was changed from a normal election process to a warped, non-democratic selection committee which allows or disallows certain candidates to run.

In effect, 80% or so of the candidates allowed on your ballot in any district for State School Board were vetted and voted upon by just 7 businessmen on a 12-person committee appointed by virtue of their close relationships with the governor's office, with power to summarily dismiss other qualified candidates who did not meet their philosophical or professional expectations. They often opposed the candidate favored by the education rep.'s who served on the same governor-appointed selection committee. And even if the "education bloc" had won the vote and allowed other candidates onto the ballot, what kind of process is that?! It is not right for a narrow, non-elected group to have power over the public ballot. Can you imagine if our candidates for governor or the state legislature were chosen that way?

The committee in several districts eliminated the candidates who were strong advocates for schools and replaced them by candidates who are more pro-voucher and "reform" as defined by the legislature. They also gave low rankings to and cut three incumbents, Teresa Theurer, Richard Sadler (the elected board chair...), and Bill Colbert. I don't even agree with Bill Colbert much, but he can't run for re-election in his own district because some insider circle businessmen don't like him? That's beyond silly.

So read all about the process and the specific sad outcome of the committee vote in June in the Accountability blog. Then contact your legislator in November and tell him/her that this is a priority issue.

Getting to know your State School Board candidates:

1. Another Accountability post shows the information available online about each of the candidates.

2. Utah Moms Care blog links to the two voting organizations which distributed surveys to the State School Board candidates on their opinions. (Check her entries for September and October for more specific information on Districts 1, 4, 7, 8, and 12, including some direct information from candidates.)

3. Utahns for Public Schools candidate surveys

4. Utah League of Women Voters candidate surveys


Saturday, November 1, 2008

A. Legrand Richards in State School Board Distict 13...Could the rules be broken if the others don't even show up to play? Sign search...

OK. Tom Gregory, the current State School Board member from District 13 let me know about some technicalities, and I found the stats from 2004 when he won his seat.

In 2004, Mr. Gregory won his seat on the state board with a total of 16,865 votes, while his opponent received 13, 310. My candidate of choice, A. Legrand Richards obviously will not be receiving that many votes. Plus, for reasons unknown, the county doesn't count votes for write-in candidates if they don't register a "Write-In Candidacy." Can someone please explain that to me? Candidates register with the state or county in order to get on the ballot, not to be a resident citizen eligible for office. Why should their registration have any bearing on my right to cast my vote as a desire for them to represent me? What if in some unusual circumstance, an undeclared write-in candidate won? It's not like he or she would be "cheating." Why should those voters be ignored?

This is just reality, but it's really frustrating because I will be surprised if either Kyle Bateman or C. Mark Openshaw receive even 10,000 votes. Has either one even put up a sign? I am certain that A. LeGrand Richards would have beaten either handily if he hadn't been undemocratically disallowed as an eligible citizen to run for elected office. I also think that if we had started a month or two ago, he would have had a much better chance as a write-in candidate than normal because of our two candidates' complete lack of interest in campaigning. Neither has a web presence. When you search for their names, the few newspaper articles about the race and some blogs, including mine and the Accountability Blog show up. I am receiving dozens and dozens of hits each day from people searching for information on the mystery men.

As I said, neither has a website or has given out their email or phone numbers except when required to for candidate registration. Neither provided contact information to the Tribune. They ignored some requests from organizations for their positions. Kyle Bateman at least responded to the Utahns for Public Schools questionnaire. I emailed C. Mark Openshaw as a citizen (after searching out his email on the state candidate registration) and asked what he thought were the most important issues and he didn't answer me. I honestly wonder if either has put up even one sign, walked even one neighborhood, or reached out in anyway except when cornered by the newspaper? Even the current rep., Tom Gregory posted that he can't find anything the two candidates. Do they care about what voters think? And that doesn't mean they would have needed to spend a lot of money either. I'm joking around about their signs, but you could run a campaign for State School Board and at least articulate your values and answer questions for free if you wanted. A blog costs nothing. Answering an email is just common courtesy and a responsibility of an elected official in my mind.

I disagree philosophically with Kyle Bateman and I'm assuming from circumstances, C. Mark Openshaw, but I sincerely disagree more with their aloof attitudes towards their constituents. I do not support Mark Cluff in District 12 either, but I can at least respect him as a competent, hard-working, and communicative person from what I've heard.

I don't know much about A. LeGrand Richards, but he has more qualifications than either of the other two candidates. He is the current Chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Foundations at BYU, was the choice of all the school representatives on the governor's selection committee who got to interview him, and made some great points on temporal and spiritual education in a campus devotional last year. Tom Gregory has commented on this blog that he has met him and was impressed. Read what you can and make a good decision. I recommend that all write in A. LeGrand Richards for State School Board District 13 and let the total stand as further evidence as to why the State School Board selection process should be reformed.

On a final, lighter note, has anyone seen even one sign posted for either Openshaw or Bateman? I would love if someone could post a picture and confirm the existence of said signs to mildly rebut my assertion that they haven't put forth any effort. Signs are nothing, yet still a basic indicator of some level of involvement in the campaign. The local Alpine School District Board races have signs up everywhere. Those offices are not any more important and those candidates are not any more wealthy.

Political Crap

Crazed demonization of enemies is bad.

I am a pretty big sports fan. I love college football and the NBA, and keep a general eye on most other things that run in the sports page. However, one of my least favorite weeks of the year is the week preceding the Utah-BYU football game. Otherwise good people just go nuts. Seriously. The little comment boards on the newspaper sites and ksl that week make the political debates seem tame. I attended both schools, root for both teams--though in the big game, I root for the Cougars--and am embarrassed each year for both schools, Mormons, and sports fans in general by the anonymous insults and sniping. I saw the same the one time I was able to attend the game in person.

That preface brings me to the topic of my post. I have tried to largely avoid the topic of the presidential election on this blog except as it bears on educational decisions. There are plenty of other good places to get that information and I don't want a heavy partisan debate generally. But I saw something this morning that is just stupid.

Do you remember November 5th, 2004? I was grudgingly happy since I extremely dislike John Kerry, though I'm not a huge Bush fan by any means. That day, I saw news reports of anti-Bush rallies in some spots around the country. The image I remember, in San Francisco I think, was of a shirtless hippie-type holding up a poster that said "F*** America!" (or maybe it was Middle America. Bad either way...) as those around him flipped off the camera with both hands. Most justly condemned such idiocy. I can understand those who totally disagree with many of Bush's policies; both current candidates strongly rejected him. But the utter, arrogant disdain for fellow Americans who thought differently than you is wrong and contributes to stupid name-calling on behalf of both Democrats and Republicans.

I remember doomsday predictions when Bill Clinton won the presidency, and my middle school friends and I semi-seriously batted around plans for moving to Mexico, though I could not have articulated what angered my parents and neighbors so much. I remember the same types of comments from both sides during the Bush/Gore campaign. Some British commentator I randomly found was actually calling the Bush presidency the "Fourth Reich," all before 9/11, the Iraq War, etc. I better remember the crazy, crazy rhetoric from both sides in 2004 as well, since I was paying more and more attention each election. I distinctly remember hearing in 2000, 2004, and 2008 that this was "the most important election of our lifetimes." I guess in a way we should think of every election as the most important so we'll actually research the issues and vote, but you can see my point that the rhetoric is overblown.

The idea I found on a blog this morning is to me just as much of an inarticulate scream of primal, hillbilly, uncivilized chest-thumping as the stupid men with the anti-America posters in 2004.



Thursday, October 30, 2008

A biology teacher with an alternate certification opines on the philosophy and practicality of SB 35

A friend of mine teaches high school biology. He graduated in Biology and went into science before going back to school to get his teacher certification. We have not known each other long, but I greatly respect his intellect and insight. We sometimes get in trouble with our wives for getting home 45 minutes late after discussing education, politics, and life while standing in a parking lot. We were discussing this extra pay for math and science teachers (SB 35 as rolled into SB 2, the omnibus education bill) and I asked him if he would be willing to write his opinion on a few questions for me to post. He graciously agreed.

My friend, unfortunately, is “just” a biology teacher and doesn’t qualify for the extra $5,000 dollars like the "superior" math and chemistry teachers. His experience of having worked in the field and in the private sector previous to becoming a teacher are very relevant to the debate however. He is his own person and we definitely do not always agree on politics and educational governance. For background, this email exchange took place in September before I had more carefully researched SB 35 and written my last post. So the discussion focused on the ideas rather than the politics behind the bill.

I was personally very interested in his opinions of the disadvantages and advantages of Biology Teaching majors and Biology majors entering teaching through alternate means. His explanation of the advantages and strengths are possible arguments for pursuing increased certification of private sector science employees, though I personally attribute some of what he explains to his own positive personality. He is critical of both his teaching pedagogy specific classes and university science pedagogy. He also doesn’t know a “single science teacher” who has left the industry over $3000-$5000 dollars.

My email:

The extra schooling was hard on your family time and money wise. Did you have to pay grad school rates upon returning for your teaching classes?

2 debates I'd like your take on:

Biology Ed. vs. Biology degrees: Do you feel your biology major better prepared you to teach high schoolers than if you had majored in biology teaching? (I think teaching college would be different.) What is your perception of other biology teachers with either sort of degree?

Required return to school w/ pedagogy classes like you did vs. alternative licensure that would fast track a biologist such as yourself to certification: Do you view the classes you took in order to get your teaching certificate as crucial, helpful, borderline, useless hoops, etc? Was the pedagogy and classroom management stuff helpful? In your view, how much of "teaching" knowledge and how much of content knowledge in your discipline are best?

Does your school struggle to find science teachers? Do you think science teachers deserve extra money compared to other teachers? And regardless of your thoughts on the last question, do you think the extra 3 to $5,000 bucks possible for some chemistry and physics teachers will help more straight science majors make the jump to teaching?

Any other comments you have on licensing, classes, and qualifications for science teachers.


His reply:

I will address all of your questions in order.

First, regarding my salary as a laboratory technician. I made about the same or slightly more money as a lab tech than I do now as a teacher (depending on the month, as my salary fluctuates from month to month, sometimes as much as $800, which makes budgeting a bit difficult). The future salary potential, however, was vastly higher than what it is as a teacher. There's no question about that. The thing I find significant about the comparison between the two jobs is that I was making the same amount of money as the lowest-paid, most entry-level, peon employee in the private sector as I am now as a "professional" employed by the state. I mean, nobody doing my job at the genetics company was doing it as a career. It was just something that people like me did to make money while in transition to bigger and better things (e.g. grad school). Nobody took it seriously. It required virtually no brains. And, we actually weren't working for most of the time we were getting paid. A 12 hour shift would include about 4-5 hours of actual work, with the rest of the time waiting for the machines to run the samples. So it burns me up that I am now working myself into the ground at a professional "career" for essentially the same salary that I was making at a bonehead job that any kid could do. If this were just a matter of money, I'd be back at the genetics company in a heartbeat.

Second, yes I did have to pay graduate tuition as a post-bac student. Going back to school, taking 19 credits, while working full time was brutal. During the last half of each week, when I was working my 12 hour night shifts at the genetics company on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, while also going to school full time during the day, I literally got one hour of sleep between work and school (6 am to 7 am) and then one hour of sleep again between school and work (3:30 pm to 4:30 pm). I literally consider it a miracle that I did not fall asleep and crash on I-15 at some point during that semester.

Now, regarding the 2 debates you wanted my take on.

First, biology ed vs biology. This is a hard comparison to make. Biology ed majors at byu have to complete 30 credit hours more for their major than biology majors do (90 and 60, respectively). However, there are 2 important things to note about this. First, many of the "extra" classes the biology ed majors take are science education classes, so that obviously helps with the teaching aspect of science, but doesn't necessarily make them more versed in the content; second, while biology ed majors are required to take a broader range of science classes (e.g. geology, which biology majors don't have to take), thus giving them a wider breadth of knowledge, they don't take as many straight biology classes as biology majors do. I can see the logic behind this – their broader background makes them more able to teach a broad science curriculum (which is very important in a high school science class, where it's impossible to understand biology without at least a rudimentary understanding of physics, chemistry, geology, statistics, and math), while, simultaneously, they don't delve as deep into the biology classes because their students will never be learning biology at that deep of a level in high school, so, it's not necessary for the biology ed majors to take those upper level biology classes in college. At least that is what I think the thinking is behind the two different curricula for the two majors at byu.

So, what are the differences, in my opinion, between how well prepared I am to teach high school biology, versus a biology ed major? I think I have some advantages over biology ed people, and I think they have some advantages over me. I think they have an advantage in that all of their university instruction in the field of biology was internalized by them through the lens of "I am going to be teaching this to 15 year olds some day." Whereas, in my case, my learning took place through the lens of "I need to learn as much about this as possible, so I can become one of the elite few who knows more about biology than anyone else, so I can do world-class biological research." The difference between the two mindsets may seem trivial, but to me it is significant. I am still struggling to change my paradigm from a university-model lecture-based approach (I gave many lectures as a TA at BYU) to an interactive, inquiry-based exploratory approach. I don't think my biology-ed friends ever really struggled with this. I think the way science is taught at universities (the actual content classes, not the science education classes) actually makes the knowledge as inaccessible as possible ("hey, if you didn't get my lecture, then maybe you should change majors"), and I think I, at least initially, adopted that approach to teaching.

On the other hand, I believe that I have 2 advantages over the biology-ed folks. The first is, I think that I am more passionate about biology than they are. I think that this is a natural by-product of the different routes that we took to teaching. They tend to see themselves as teachers first, and as a person interested in biology second. I, on the other hand was a biologist first, and then became interested in teaching. This difference gives the biology ed people better pedagogy, at least at first, but it gives me a passion that I have never seen matched by any of them. That passion is contagious. I can often tell when my students have gotten interested in something because they can see the level of my interest. Furthermore, my passion leads me to try things that my colleagues do not, and, quite frankly, to put more effort into certain activities than they are willing to invest. Sometimes it becomes a liability - I occasionally have to remind myself that I am not there to indulge my own interests, but to teach my students. However, on some level I think the two merge (my interests and their learning, that is).

The other advantage that I have over the biology ed people is depth of knowledge, as I mentioned above, as well as actual experience as a working biologist. Depth of knowledge doesn't always matter in teaching, because, as I mentioned above, much of what I know is at too high a level to be relevant to what my students are learning. However, I have often been surprised at how many times I have had to draw on the limits of my biological knowledge about a particular subject in order to address a student's question. I have often been surprised at how shallow some of my colleagues' knowledge is about certain biological subjects. It has also helped that I have done extensive research and published, as well as had numerous field work experiences. Obviously, not all biology majors do those sorts of things. However, they are much more likely to than are the biology ed people, because they (biology ed people) are spending all their extra time working on pedagogy and taking extra classes. My field and research experiences taught me some of the most important things that I know about biology, and those are things that just cannot be duplicated in college classes. I think this is where the strongest argument can be made for the benefit of alternate licensure – the real-life experiences that people who come from either the private sector or other government employment have can resonate with students in a way that traditional teachers just can't. You should see my students' eyes pop when I start telling them about my experiences doing fieldwork in the Amazon, or when they see some of my pictures from Madagascar. I know biology in a different way than biology ed teachers do because I've experienced it as a biologist (not just at the genetics company, but also through working for professors at BYU as well as for the state DWR), and had to write grant applications and manuscripts, present at conferences, and publish my work. Biology ed people just can't duplicate that experience by taking another class. I mean, when I start the year by teaching the nature of science and the scientific method, I can take things to a whole new level because I have actually used the scientific method to conduct studies, rather than just reading other people's studies out of a book. Now, none of this replaces pedagogy, which people like me inevitably struggle with. But, it does give me a dimension to my teaching that biology ed people lack.

Now, on to your question about the classes I had to take during my licensure. The science ed classes were helpful. The general ed classes (multicultural ed, adolescent ed, teaching with technology, students with disabilities ed, etc) were a huge waste of time. In each case what I got out of the experience could have been summed up in a single paragraph. Anything that I learned that was useful I got from my science ed classes, and even then, I don't remember much and don't think much of it actually translated into me teaching differently because I took the classes. I very much feel like, when I was taking my education classes, I was in one sphere of existence, and when I actually began teaching all of that went out the window as I entered another sphere of existence, with virtually no carryover from one state of being to the next. Unfortunately, I think that any progress I may have made in my teaching has been from trial and error, with virtually none of it informed by my teacher education. Sad, huh? As far as the balance between teaching knowledge versus content knowledge is concerned, I was going to say that I think they should be about even, and then I read over what I just wrote two sentences above. If I really believe what I wrote up there then I guess I should conclude that content knowledge is more important, shouldn't I? I mean, if there's going to be virtually no carryover of pedagogy from teacher ed classes to the actual teaching experience, then what's the point of a heavy emphasis on pedagogy? Maybe we should just teach pre-service teachers as much content as possible and let them learn the rest on their own if that's how it's going to happen anyway. That is, of course, assuming that it can only happen the same way that it happened to me, which is, of course, a bad assumption. Although I do think that for most people it does happen more or less the same way it happened to me.

I don't think that my school struggles to find science teachers, although I am aware that many schools in the area do. I think that that is because, at my school, the teachers who have been around forever and aren't going anywhere are the ones who teach the subjects that are difficult to fill (physics and chemistry). Biology teachers are much more common, because, let's be honest, biology is a lot more fun to teach than either chemistry or physics – even chemistry and physics teachers will tell you that. Every other school that I interviewed at wanted me to teach all chemistry classes (I am endorsed in chemistry, but it's not my forte, and certainly was not what I wanted to spend my career teaching).

I don't know that it's possible to make a very strong argument that science teachers deserve more money than their counterparts in the liberal arts, unless you're going to appeal to supply and demand economics. The problem is that supply and demand economics theory doesn't really work here, because the extra salary incentive doesn't seem to be working. I don't know of a single science teacher who left industry because of the salary incentive. I honestly think it's pretty silly to think that that would ever work on a large enough scale to justify the program. Even if the money were tempting (and, let's be honest, 3-5 K is not going to be that tempting to someone who's already making more than the average teacher), no one from industry is going to be willing to jump through the licensure hoops, let alone put up with the crap from the kids, parents, and administrators unless they had a passion for teaching, in which case they would probably have gone into education in the first place and would not be an industry-employed professional anyway. I, of course, am an exception to this. However, at the time that I was working in industry, I was still searching for "what I wanted to be when I grew up." I wasn't exactly in the target demographic for the merit pay program. So, what we end up with is science teachers who were already going to be science teachers anyway getting paid more to do what they are already doing. So, it does seem a bit pointless doesn't it, not to mention sparking some major resentment among English and history teachers (although, let's be honest, if I qualified for merit pay, I would be all for it – in fact maybe this response is just a reflection of my own resentment for being left out of the deal).

More omnibus fun: SB 35 -- High quality smoke and mirrors brought to you by Howard Stephenson and Greg Hughes

I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. Howard Stephenson still surprises me with his relentless drive to attack public education so that his secret big business clients (Click on About Us and read the history and the 5th bullet under Association Purpose and Objectives) who bankroll the Utah Taxpayers Association can pay fewer taxes, regardless of the effectiveness or truth of the measure. I knew there were problematic aspects with SB 35, but I hadn’t realized exactly how much this bill had deceptively morphed into something much different than originally proposed, even when I briefly wrote about the timeline of its votes. I also listened to Greg Hughes interview Senator Hillyard last Saturday on Red Meat Radio (Senator Stephenson is the driving force and most frequent host of the show) and forcefully claim that the legislature is already ethical and transparent, and it’s just the unethical media who misportray the truth. Talk is cheap my legislative overlords, and stuff like I’m about to document is why people don’t trust you. I belatedly caught one more instance of ideological, secret agenda pushing here 8 months after the fact...how many more go unseen among the wheels within wheeled amendments at the legislature?

SB 35 was another bill logrolled into the omnibus education bill, SB 2. Unlike the million dollar laptop program, this bill had seemingly passed the Senate. Its path was a tortured one however and the bill that passed the Senate was NOT the same one that got illicitly passed in the omnibus.

First, the original SB 35 passed a vote in the Senate Education Committee on Jan. 22nd and then the first of two required floor votes in the Senate on the 30th. The bill was relatively short. If you read the Highlighted Provisions summary and the actual bill language, it directed the State School Board to annually survey the schools for difficult-to-fill science and math positions, create a “criticality index” to rank which positions were the most difficult to fill, and give $5,000 more dollars to a math or science teacher who accepted one of those positions. This rankled some teachers, but I thought it was a relatively good idea. If you need to pay teachers more at schools where fewer people want to work, that may be necessary in order to help kids. I had an acquaintance who moved to Dugway for a year to teach. I bumped into him the next summer and he was ecstatic about leaving. I personally think it’s noble, but there’s no way I would take my family to a rural school in the state.

A second thing that bothered teachers only emerged gradually: it wasn’t all math and science teachers who would qualify, only those teaching selected advanced classes, excluding other sciences such as Biology and implicitly the vast majority of jr. high math and science teachers.
70 (2) The money appropriated in Subsection (1) shall be used to provide a $5,000 salary
71 supplement for a full-time-equivalent position as a teacher of:
72 (a) mathematics level 3;
73 (b) mathematics level 4;
74 (c) chemistry;
75 (d) physics; or
76 (e) integrated science.

I’m not specifically clued in on the hiring difficulties of districts, but I was still mostly OK with this if it would help get some teachers to less desired areas. It was a relatively straight forward “market incentive” geared towards filling areas of need. There was nothing about teacher qualifications since the bill specifically addressed “teachers,” and all teachers already need a teaching certificate which requires a bachelor’s degree.

Senator Stephenson then amended his own bill on Feb. 5th, just before it passed the 2nd floor vote in the Senate. The new amended text now required that in order to get the $5,000 bonus, teachers that filled these positions of critical need had to have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent through later class work in the content area specifically, not the teaching specific degree that the vast majority of teachers get. So a Physics Teaching major who went to work on the Indian reservation school wouldn’t get the bonus because she didn’t get her bachelors in plain old Physics, and then pay the much more expensive post-graduate rates to earn the teaching certification. She would instead be punished for earning the certification as part of her undergraduate degree and moving quickly into the teaching area of greatest need. This angered a lot of teachers. Many debated if a Math major who later certified as a teacher was necessarily better than a teacher who entered teaching directly via a Math Teaching degree. And philosophically, this seemed to go against the supposed main thrust of the bill which was to find good certified teachers for hard-to-fill positions. It reduced the potential pool of qualified applicants by over 90% as very few secondary teachers have taken this route to certification. The change wasn’t consistent with the stated objective of the bill.

The bill passed the 2nd Senate floor vote, but I would be very interested in what debate took place and whether the legislators, with no time to study as the bill was passed soon after the amendment, fully realized the rather large shift in emphasis.

The amended SB 35 was then sent to the House and introduced on February 5th. It was sent to the House Education Committee on the 7th. This next sidenote worries me. I had thought that the bill records kept online were accurate and independent of politics. The official status log has no record of an Education Committee vote, but just shows the bill sitting in committee, not voted on, until the 27th. I took that information at face value when I was making my timelines and wondered why the bill got stuck.

I was recently fishing through old material and came across an update the UEA sent out on March 4th about the omnibus bill. It was talking about the defeated bills tacked on and specifically mentioned Senator Stephenson’s SB 35 as having been defeated in the House Education Committee on a tie vote. Hmmmm. Fishy. I checked back and the status still does not show that vote as having occurred. However, a new section has recently appeared on each bill’s information page titled Audio Recordings of Debates. (Did I miss an announcement of this at the Senate site?) This is great news! It absolutely was not there in early June when I previously wrote about this bill. This section contains a link to a House Education Committee debate on Feb. 27th, while the status still says no vote happened. Was it really debated and not voted on? Or is the UEA claim correct and there is something wrong with the record? And regardless, what discussions and negotiations happened in the 3 weeks from Feb, 7th until the bill was debated on Feb. 27th? An important factor was apparently the discovery by Greg Hughes that Margaret Bird, an employee of the State Board of Education, was going to exercise her constitutional right to run against him that Spring in a bid to win the Republican nomination to his House seat. I remember reading about Hughes angrily saying he couldn’t trust the state board back in February over this, but I didn’t save the articles. Bird and Carol Lear recently testified to the House Ethics Committee about the incident during an ethics hearing on charges against Rep. Hughes. Senator Stephenson apparently got in on the attacks as well.

I haven’t had time to listen to the debate yet, but I want to so I can gain some insight into the vote as well as the next transformation of SB 35. That same day, Feb. 27th, voted on or not I do not know, the bill was sent back to the House Rules Committee. That committee’s vice-chair happens to be Greg Hughes and it is chaired by voucher sponsor, Steve Urquhart. The bill was then substituted by Rep. Hughes on Feb. 29th and that is the end of the status of the original SB 35. Another strange inconsistency emerges at this point in the bill timelines. The original SB 35 status shows the bill being sent to rules on Feb. 27th and substituted on the 29th. The new 1st substitute inherited the voting history of the original bill, but now showed something different for those last days in February. There are two new entries, one on Feb. 27th and one on the 28th, both apparently sending the bill to the Legislative Fiscal Analyst (LFA) for fiscal analysis. Both timelines then agree that the substitute bill was put forth on the 29th. So what gives? Which bill was evaluated by the LFA, the original or the substitute, and why the discrepancy between the two status reports?

A substituted bill is in effect a new bill and must pass both houses in its new form to become a law. So SB 35, 1st Substitute now needed to pass both committee and floor votes in both chambers in order to become a law in the face of stiff opposition from teachers and legislative education supporters…except that Senator Stephenson was actively planning his SB 2 omnibus at this point and just decided to pass the bill the easy way—attach it to teacher raises and hold them hostage. He waited for the fiscal note, apparently for the correct version of the bill, from the LFA on March 3rd and immediately inserted the bill into the omnibus, SB 2, which was created that same day.

The new bill bore little resemblance to the original SB 35. The original bill called for 7 million Uniform School Fund dollars to the State Board of Education to be distributed through the districts as $5,000 bonuses to those teachers in critical need positions. The substitute was now over twice as long and featured an utterly bizarre set of new expenses.

First, it created a new “restricted” sub-account called the Teacher Salary Supplement Restricted Account, within the existing Uniform School Fund.

Second, it allocated $127,000 this year and an ongoing $190,000 every year hereafter from the General Fund to the Department of Human Resource Management to create an online application system to determine teacher eligibility for the bonuses, which then forwards the information to the Division of Finance, which then distributes that money to the districts, who then include the bonus in the teacher’s check. In other words, in order to do the same work the State Board of Education was prepared to do as just part of their duties, Hughes and Stephenson, the supposed “small-government” advocates, created a special account of education money specifically not accessible to the State Board of Education, and then inserted not one, but two additional bureaucracies as middlemen between the state and the teachers, all at an annual cost of $190,000. Stephenson regularly claims that public schools waste too much money in spite of class sizes consistently approaching 35 students, yet these two jokers can afford to spend $190,000 a year to redundantly sidestep the State Board of Education in order to teach some Board employee an important lesson about not running against incumbent Republicans because it hurts their feelings. And then Stephenson, co-chair of the committee that sets the board’s budget and the person who had just called Bird specifically to pressure her to drop out of the race, righteously claims that “he was careful not to pressure her.”

Third, the allocation for bonuses was also increased by $646,100, despite the fact that the bill’s provisions substantially reduced the pool of possible recipients. Finding 1400 spots to be defined as “critical shortages” in order to distribute the original $7 million was going to be a stretch anyway, depending on how you defined “critical.” Now in the substitute bill, I don’t believe for a second that Sen. Stephenson and Rep. Hughes thought they would find 1529 teachers holding one of that very limited range of degrees in order to distribute the $7,646,100 of annual bonus money available from the Uniform School Fund. I would be surprised if more than 5% of secondary science or math teachers held those degrees. It forces me to speculate that they are purposely withholding more Uniform School Fund money in that special “restricted” account than is strictly necessary to administer the bill in order to punish schools for opposing it.

Additionally, HB 35 1st Sub completely gutted the original purpose of the bill and revealed what appears to have been Stephenson’s intention all along, to delegitimize teachers as professionals and frame them as inferior to “real” mathematicians and scientists. The bill sneakily includes language about filling critical shortage in its Highlighted Provisions summary (Lines 20-22), despite there being absolutely no mention of that in the bill itself. I guess this would satisfy those legislators who only read the summary. The actual portions of the bill that are concerned with teacher salaries rather than four-bureaucracy-deep payment protocols decree that any teacher can now receive the $5,000, whether teaching in Parowan or the Wasatch Front, as long as he/she received a bachelor’s degree in a selected “hard” science and later became a teacher. “Critical shortages” are not addressed at all, and biology teachers and jr. high teachers are once again found less worthy than the high school teachers. The bill’s implicit purpose now apparently became to remake the teacher ranks by persuading scientists and mathematicians to become teachers by paying them $5,000 more than their colleagues. This was confirmed in the press conference introducing the omnibus on the afternoon of March 3rd when Senator Margaret Dayton rambled for a few minutes about how differentiated pay was going to make Utah "the feeder state for NASA.” (You can click through to the video and watch her speak if you wish.)

It seems to just be common sense that $5,000 won’t change much. I don’t believe there’s this huge pool of higher quality people than our current math and science teachers, just waiting to switch careers if only they could make an extra $5,000 a year.

More to the point of this post, Senator Stephenson and Representative Hughes surreptitiously changed the purpose of SB 35 to something completely different than originally voted for and what its own Highlighted Provisions purported it to be, added $190,000 of completely unnecessary duplication of services to grind a personal ax, and then dishonestly avoided debate by sticking it all into an enormous omnibus bill two days before the close of the session.

Dishonest. Unethical. Sneaky. Power hungry. Irrationally ideological. Take your pick. Trust is not won in an ethics hearing; it is won through transparent actions in the best interest of those citizens whom you represent.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A numbers mistake about the cost of the Waterford program in SB 2—It’s worse than I thought…and further illustrates why the omnibus bill is misleading

I made a mistake and stated that $1,000,000 was being allocated towards Waterford software and computers in the portion of SB 2 that was formerly HB 200. The actual impact is at least 3 ½ times worse just this year 6 times worse over the next 3 years. The legislature allocated $1,000,000 in one time money and $2,500,000 in ongoing money from the Uniform School Fund to the purchase of this software and implementation of the program. That ongoing funding is for at least 2009 and 2010, and I can’t figure out if the funding is repealed before 2014 or if “ongoing” is an indefinite term. Maybe a smarter person than me can help clarify.

I am sorry about the error. It was an honest mistake. I’m going to explain what I was looking at and thinking. The maze of statutory language mixed in an omnibus bill of over 1000 lines is a little confusing and I have spent some significant time reading and trying to connect the dots. Let this tangled web stand as refutation to Senator Stephenson’s claim it was just a “time-saving tool” “to reduce confusion.”

While typing my post, I had separate tabs up with both the text of HB 200 and SB 2 displayed AND two more tabs with the respective fiscal notes of HB 200 and SB 2. (Those links all go to slightly different places. For the “main menu” of each bill from which you can access the above information, audio/video of the debates, and the timeline of who voted for the bills and when, here is yet another link to HB 200 and SB 2.)

I often use the fiscal notes attached to bills—intended to be clear graphical statements of the cost of each bill without digging through all of the bill’s legalese—to quickly see the financial impact and where the money is coming from. However, I think the fiscal notes of these two bills and my error demonstrate another reason why the omnibus bill was a dishonest method to pass 13 separate bills and make it more difficult for the public to evaluate the work of their representatives. Notice that the fiscal note for HB 200 is clear and to the point--$1 million this year and $2.5 million for the next two years, each from a distinct fund. (Though even that may be a little misleading—the “ongoing” money seems to go beyond 2010.) Now look at the fiscal note for SB 2. It allocates almost $5 billion over 3 years from a combination of 5 different funds. There is no way to distinguish the cost or funding source for any one aspect of this 1185 line bill (40 printed pages according to the Daily Herald’s omnibus support board.) from the summary. The overall total is no doubt important in ensuring the legislature stays on budget, but in this case it hides the cost of the individual programs. This is surely one of the reasons the Utah State Constitution mandates that “no bill shall be passed containing more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title.”

So I was looking at the text of the two bills when I inadvertently pulled a mental switcheroo. The HB 200 text has the funding right at the end, lines 204-224. The Waterford section of SB 2 runs from lines 259 to 397. While flipping back and forth, I mistakenly thought that HB 200 had been copied verbatim into SB 2 and somehow got it firmly in my head that the first year funding from HB 200 (lines 215-218) was the overall allocation for the bill as newly constituted in SB 2. I just thought that the legislature had reduced the funding when rolling the bill into the omnibus schmorgasboard. I had missed that the SB 2 version was shorter than the original. Line 397 in SB 2 is the equivalent of line 194 in HB 200—the final 30 lines of HB 200 were missing.

I found that lines 195-224 in the original bill, a confusing bunch of repeal dates and the funding, had been snipped, split, and re-pasted into two separate places at the very end of the omnibus bill, lumped together with the funding for 10 other bills and separated from the language of the original by almost 700 lines of dense statutory code. Again, this wasn’t a problem in the original, stand-alone bill that wasn’t mixed with other proposals.

The $1,000,000 dollar one time money allocation for this year only is tucked into lines 1103 and 1108-1109 of SB 2.

Lines 1057-1078 of SB 2 contain the repeal dates and the ongoing allocation of $2.5 million a year. The repeal dates are where I get confused about how many years the $2.5 million lasts. Remember the bill uses the term “ongoing,” but the original fiscal note only detailed $2.5 million for 2009 and 2010. Lines 1059-1067 of SB 2 contain 7 sections, subsections, or titles and 7 different repeal dates. The complicated numbers on the sections are similar to the numbers on parts of the bill, but don’t look to me to match those in the bill. What are these 7 lines repealing? The funding? The program? The audit? I don’t know. Line 33 of the Highlighted Provisions on the original HB 200 states that the pilot program is repealed on July 1, 2014, but doesn’t clarify what all those repeal dates before 2014 mean. If they repeal other things (interesting bit of reverse earmarking if so), then is the $2.5 million to Waterford mandated until 2014? Here’s the actual lines from SB 2:

1057 Section 26. Section 63-55b-153 is amended to read:
1058 63-55b-153. Repeal dates -- Titles 53, 53A, and 53B.
1059 (1) Section 53-3-210 is repealed February 1, 2007.
1060 (2) Section 53A-1-403.5 is repealed July 1, 2012.
1061 (3) Subsection 53A-1a-511 (7)(c) is repealed July 1, 2007.
1062 (4) Title 53A, Chapter 1a, Part 10, UPSTART, is repealed July 1, 2014.
1063 [(4)] (5) Section 53A-3-702 is repealed July 1, 2008.
1064 [(5)] (6) Section 53A-6-112 is repealed July 1, 2009.
1065 (7) Subsection 53A-13-110 (3) is repealed July 1, 2013.
1066 [(6)] (8) Section 53A-17a-152 is repealed July 1, 2010.
1067 (9) Section 53A-17a-162 is repealed July 1, 2012.

This is where I would love someone knowledgeable in the arcane to step in and explain what these repeal dates refer to.

And finally, how does this impact my analysis of how many kids will be served this year—I don’t know. Here are lines 1068-1078:

1068 Section 27. Ongoing appropriations.
1069 (1) As an ongoing appropriation subject to future budget constraints, there is
1070 appropriated from the Uniform School Fund for fiscal year 2008-09, as follows:
1071 (a) $2,500,000 to the State Board of Education for UPSTART as provided in Title
1072 53A, Chapter 1a, Part 10, UPSTART, including costs of:
1073 (i) a home-based educational technology program provided by a contractor;
1074 (ii) computers, peripheral equipment, and Internet service for families who cannot
1075 afford the equipment and service;
1076 (iii) administrative and technical support provided by school districts;
1077 (iv) an audit of the contractor's use of funds appropriated for UPSTART; and
1078 (v) an evaluation of the home-based educational technology program;

Item (i), the actual Waterford program, costs $3400 to install on a given computer. My original thought of just dividing the total by that $3400 gives us the same 294 for the first year and 735 households served statewide for the 2008-09 year. I knew it was a rough estimate because of other costs, but it turns out it was much too rough. Item (ii), computers and decent internet service (dial-up will presumably be too slow for the interactive Waterford program) for low income households will be expensive, along with item (iii), the technical support. Further explained by lines 331-337:

331 (3) A school district that participates in UPSTART shall:
332 (a) receive funding for:
333 (i) paraprofessional and technical support staff; and
334 (ii) travel, materials, and meeting costs of the program;

Not all low income households will need a computer and internet, but they have to be provided for the ones that do. At least 30% of the participants must come from low income households (Lines 342-349 in SB 2). (The low income households increase costs, but arguably much better meet the goal of targeting low readers who aren’t ready for school than the “diverse” 70% from higher income households.) Let’s make some extremely ballpark estimates. If around 600 households were provided software and about 200 of those were low income, how many would need computers and internet service? What type of computer would be bought and at what bulk discount for the state? How many households will have a suitable computer and just need internet? And how much administrative and technical support will these families less familiar with the technology need? It seems impossible to tell since the selection process is very broad (Lines 312-319, 340-341). I don’t know what technical support staff costs, but from experience with school technology snafus (including some laptops completely failing and erasing a term’s worth of grades just last week at my school), at least a moderate-sized staff would be needed to service laptops being used in all kinds of home settings. Paraprofessionals are relatively cheap to hire, but quality and retention/retraining are constant issues, and again I don’t know exactly how to evaluate how many would be needed. Many of the families would need training and help with the program.

Finally, items (iv) and (v), the audit and “evaluation” of the program can take up to 7.5% of the funding (Lines 373-375). That’s up to $187,500 from the raw $2.5 million, but would be less than that because of some exclusions.

It also makes sense to assume that the one time $1,000,000 in the first year will be used largely to buy the computers and peripherals because those aren’t continuing costs. This would decrease the number of students served the first year, but possibly allow for an increase in the number of students able to be served by the ongoing $2.5 million. So I would estimate that eventually between 600-650 households could be served for the cost of $1 million this year and $2.5 million for at least the next two years after that. It looks like after the other costs, hundreds of thousands of dollars of that money will go to Waterford this year, and between $1.5 million and $2 million each year after that.



That’s it. This post is now the unofficial headquarters for the write-in campaign for A. LeGrande Richards for State School Board District 13.

See my frustration with the two candidates. Kyle Bateman is a voucher proponent with little to no relevant experience; C. Mark Openshaw most likely holds similar views, but also has no relevant experience and literally will not answer a polite email from a potential constituent asking why he is running. He refuses to answer any and all questions from any group besides one vague paragraph that he “will do stuff” to the Tribune, but he refused to even give out his contact information.

Then finally, last night, I attended a small cottage meeting to hear State Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. Two women were discussing the State School Board District 13 race. One said she had heard nothing about either candidate. The well-connected lady replied (This is a paraphrase of what I heard, not an exact quote.), “Neither one is really campaigning. They see it as a 50/50 shot. They get picked by a weird process, a committee and then the governor approves them…They are both similar. They were chosen by the same people. My husband and I just each voted for one.”

They won’t even campaign?! It’s a 50/50 shot?! Apparently it’s not just my neighborhood and my emails going unanswered. That’s arrogant and unacceptable. The corrupt selection process eliminated the BYU professor in the School of Education who has experience and was the choice of all of the public school members of the selection committee…A. LeGrande Richards.

I could and should have a choice of viewpoints on the ballot to vote for, but 6 businessmen and a charter school representative—and none of them live in Provo and Orem I believe—chose two under-qualified voucher proponents for me. That’s undemocratic and wrong. I sincerely believe A. LeGrande Richards would have beaten either of them handily if he had been allowed on the ballot instead of arbitrarily eliminated by 7 non-participants in the election.

See the Accountability Blog for a great summary of all these problems. Especially see the results of the vote on June 2nd when the business representatives voted as a bloc for Bateman and Openshaw, with none of them voting for A. Legrande Richards.

Here is A. LeGrande Richards' biography page at BYU.

Provo residents and south Orem residents up to about 400 North…. Write in A. Legrande Richards for State School Board District 13. I would have had a homemade poster up at my house last night, but I fell asleep sitting at the computer after midnight. Make a poster; call a friend; send an email. No one knows who the candidates are. Almost everyone will listen to a friendly recommendation for a State School Board race where they know none of the candidates. We can actually make a difference. Your homemade poster may be the only one people see.


I don’t know if we can turn the tide in only 6 days, but I think we would actually win this election if we had a month. Make a difference.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Maybe the worst bill in the education omnibus, HB 200—$3400 software plus laptops for preschoolers

An omnibus bill is a rotten, non-transparent method to pass legislation even if all of the bills contained are good. Not that I believe there commonly are 100% clean omnibus bills. Many of us have been frustrated when omnibus bills are used on the federal level and pork is stuck into a farm bill or an energy bill. Unfortunately, and in keeping with federal tradition, the only reason legislative leadership used the omnibus bill at the end of the legislative session last March was to lump some failed education bills in with eight stronger bills and pass them through with no scrutiny. Senator Stephenson claimed the omnibus was just to reduce confusion among the coordinating clauses in the bills. The point was made during the floor debate that the legislative staff has successfully coordinated hundreds of bills every session for decades. You can check the BS yourself by looking at the amended code sections in the original bill texts and then checking out the arduous cut-and-paste job done into SB 2.

HB 278 and HB 200 were probably the two worst bills passed in this dishonest fashion; both had failed floor votes in previous days precisely because they were illogical uses of education funds. I'll address HB 278 another time.

Let’s look at HB 200, the UPSTART program or “laptops for preschoolers” bill, and three puzzling aspects of its passage. (Lines 258-397 of the Omnibus bill, SB 2) It allocates $1,000,000 for the current school year to purchase instructional reading software for families, hardware and internet service for needy families, and for an audit on the program. The original had the same funding for the first year, but included $2.5 million more per year through 2014. The update included in SB 2 includes an option for the legislature to continue the program with no funding stipulated. (Update: Oops. I looked at the wrong bill and missed the actual costs. The bill allocates $1 million the first year and $2.5 million each year after that.)

1. First rotten aspect. The bill calls for a Request for Proposals (RFP) to find a contractor to provide a contractor with a laundry list of requirements, but the media reports from the very beginning explained the program as involving the Waterford Reading Software. My House representative also repeated to me both during and after the session that the Waterford software would be used in the program’s year trial. Where did that belief come from? Is it legal to already have a winner chosen before a RFP is even conducted? I recall hearing something in a recent session about a bill containing an exact copy of a company’s listed services. Is that what happened here? Why Waterford? Here’s the relevant language from the bill:

281 (3) The State Board of Education shall contract with an educational technology
282 provider, selected through a request for proposals process, for the delivery of a home-based
283 educational technology program for preschool children that meets the requirements of
284 Subsection (4).
285 (4) A home-based educational technology program for preschool children shall meet the
286 following standards:
287 (a) the contractor shall provide computer-assisted instruction for preschool children on
288 a home computer connected by the Internet to a centralized file storage facility;
289 (b) the contractor shall:
290 (i) provide technical support to families for the installation and operation of the
291 instructional software; and
292 (ii) provide for the installation of computer and Internet access in homes of low income
293 families that cannot afford the equipment and service;
294 (c) the contractor shall have the capability of doing the following through the Internet:
295 (i) communicating with parents;
296 (ii) updating the instructional software;
297 (iii) validating user access;
298 (iv) collecting usage data;
299 (v) storing research data; and
300 (vi) producing reports for parents, schools, and the Legislature;
301 (d) the program shall include the following components:
302 (i) computer-assisted, individualized instruction in reading, mathematics, and science;
303 (ii) a multisensory reading tutoring program; and
304 (iii) a validated computer adaptive reading test that does not require the presence of
305 trained adults to administer and is an accurate indicator of reading readiness of children who
306 cannot read;
307 (e) the contractor shall have the capability to quickly and efficiently modify, improve,
308 and support the product;
309 (f) the contractor shall work in cooperation with school district personnel who will
310 provide administrative and technical support of the program as provided in Section
311 53A-1a-1003 ;
312 (g) the contractor shall solicit families to participate in the program as provided in
313 Section 53A-1a-1004 ; and
314 (h) in implementing the home-based educational technology program, the contractor
315 shall seek the advise and expertise of early childhood education professionals within the Utah
316 System of Higher Education on issues such as:
317 (i) soliciting families to participate in the program;
318 (ii) providing training to families; and
319 (iii) motivating families to regularly use the instructional software.
320 (5) The contract shall provide funding for a home-based educational technology
321 program for preschool children for one year with an option to extend the contract for additional
322 years or to expand the program to a greater number of preschool children, subject to the
323 appropriation of money by the Legislature for UPSTART.

There is nothing mentioning Waterford at all. Why would the legislators know the winner of the RFP months before it even took place? (I wish I knew the status of that RFP and whether schools are using the program currently.)

Wow. The language requires the contractor to not only have a product that accurately measures the reading readiness of children who cannot read (Lines 304-306), but stipulates that the company must install the software, solicit families to participate in the program, and motivate them to regularly use the software.

Recalling an earlier post on educational “research,” I searched around on the web for how the Waterford software works. The Waterford Institute is a non-profit organization dedicated to integrating technology into learning. They sell their early reading program through Pearson/Prentice Hall, a corporation dedicated to selling expensive software and textbooks to schools.

Here’s the Pearson order page I first found with impressive claims, rosy promotional literature, and “research” proving the efficacy of the program. Notice that none of the research here has any direct link to the program. They are a bunch of separate studies recommending different actions, and the program just claims to meet all 6 pages worth of objectives. There is no actual evaluation of the Waterford Early Reading Software.

As I searched further, I did find a page with some actual research of the program on the Waterford Site. It was tucked in a page citing the same long laundry list of other reading research they claim validates their program. I skimmed to evaluate the two actual effectiveness studies. The Waterford software receives high praise for its effects on low readers, and the studies appear at least decent, despite a few methodological concerns. (The higher quality study done for an educational journal has a much smaller sample and only lasts 6 months; the study by some advocacy foundation has a much larger number of students and lasts 3 years, but has issues with the testing procedures.) However, both studies specifically address the use of the software in a classroom setting and say that the teacher significantly affected the positive reading gains. There is no data available on using the program at home with pre-school age children and no teacher. The trial here in Utah could contribute to a study of that if someone is documenting the effort.

However, a troubling aspect of the site was the Terms of Use which expressly spell out that our investment is not guaranteed. I’m pasting into two separate paragraphs and the subheadings they fall under:
Disclaimer of Warranties


Limitation of Liability

I can understand not wanting to be liable for hackers or inevitable small glitches, but there is no guarantee EVER that the site will be “accurate or reliable.” Pearson is not liable in any way for any matter relating to the site, even if the school is unable to use the site. Maybe this is “normal” legalese and means nothing, but I know I’d be concerned about signing a personal contract for a product with these provisos.

2. Second fishy aspect. Paul Rolly reported in May that Cap Ferry, former Utah Senate president and current lobbyist extraordinaire, was pushing the Waterford software’s use to the legislators. Another person with some knowledge of the bill called it “A solution looking for a problem.”

3. Third slightly rancid, but key, undisclosed fact about the Waterford Program. Waterford and Pearson charge $3400, plus an installation fee, for EACH computer the Waterford Early Reading Program is installed on.

Last summer, I called the 1-888 number that was the only contact information I could find on the Pearson website. I asked about purchasing the Waterford software and was given the number to a local representative. The site has improved since then and you can find his number directly on the Pearson site now. The rep. was very helpful and explained that the Waterford program was the top-of-the-line intervention for low-achieving readers and told me of some local elementary schools using the program.

We discussed cost, and each computer equipped with Waterford Early Reading would cost $3400 plus an installation fee. Multiple users can then use that computer, but that efficiency is lost when the computer is specifically provided for the home. There is a lesser program, Success Maker, which costs only $1150 per computer and another program, ELLIS, specifically geared to those students learning English as a second language for $1000 per computer. The Waterford software, while supposedly superior, costs three times as much as similar interventions.

At the end of our conversation, I asked the rep. if the state had purchased the software yet, and he got nervous. He said that it wasn’t for sure yet and quickly changed the subject.

If the $1,000,000 allocated to the program this year were completely spent on $3400 fees, we could provide 294 homes with Waterford Software. However, there is the undisclosed installation fee per computer on top of that, up to $75,000 of the million can be spent on auditing and evaluation, and at least some homes will be provided with newly purchased computers and internet service as well. I wonder if 200 homes provided with software would be an accurate estimation of how many will be served by this program this year? (Update: Many fewer homes would get the program the first year, while up to 600+ could be served in following years...probably...if my estimates are close. )

The software had better be good to justify a $3400+ pricetag for each program. I would like to know who originally proposed the idea for the bill to Rep. Last, what information Cap Ferry gave to the legislators, if other programs or reading interventions were discussed, what that research process looked like, what donations if any were given by Waterford employees to campaign funds, and what was said during the original debate of the bill. During the Senate debate of SB 2 on the second to last day of the session, Sen. Stephenson said it was as good as funding Head Start. I want to believe that the bill came about from a sincere search for reading remediation, and not to provide a corporate handout…but I’m awfully suspicious. Regardless, Cap Ferry’s client is no doubt finding his lobbying fees worth the expense.