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 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.

Monday, October 27, 2008

State School Board District 13 Candidates are MIA; A great validation of the selection process

HEEEELLLLLLLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO?! C. Mark Openshaw? C. Mark? C. Mark run...away from all contact with possible constituents. (Bad pun made worse by the fact you're probably reading this on a Monday morning.)

I know the State School Board is unappreciated, unheralded, and probably less than 1% of the population could name their representative on the board, but we saw how important they can be as principled advocates for education during the voucher campaign. (They took hypocritical cheap shots, but were vindicated as representing the people in the end.) I admit that I did not always pay attention to these races and that teachers mostly don't know who their State School Board Representatives are either. In fact, until last week I thought my representative was Mark Cluff of State School Board District 12 and was all set to vote for his opponent, Carol Murphy.

Oops. I actually fall into State School Board District 13 which has been represented for the last 4 years by Tom Gregory, by all accounts an effective board member whose blog allowed him to communicate well with constituents, as well as being one of the original proponents and a signer of the omnibus lawsuit.

Gregory is not running for re-election, and the political committee process of appointing candidates via anti-public-school voting blocks gave us the candidates Kyle Bateman and C. Mark Openshaw.

They are both new to the local educational scene as far as I know. I would wager about 99.9% of their district has not heard of either of them. They are trying to win an election for public office. Yet, when being profiled, neither of them saw fit to provide the Tribune with any contact information for the public to ask them questions. Not every candidate for State School Board had a website (Which is becoming almost mandatory these days so people can see where you stand 24-7.), but I believe EVERY other candidate provided the paper with their email address and in many cases their home telephone number so that voters could contact them. Kyle Bateman and C. Mark Openshaw were the only ones to stay incognito. They also ignored the voter information questions from the Utah League of Women Voters and only Bateman responded to the most detailed questionnaire given out to State School Board candidates by the Utahns for Public Schools advocacy group. (Hat tip to Utah Moms Care for putting both of those links in one place.) Why?

Now, I believe that both men are probably very nice people who care deeply about Utah schools because they have children in them. But why do they think they can run for an important elected office and provide the public with no information? Who are they? What do they believe about education in general and their role as State School Board members? Who knows?

I tracked down the email addresses and phone numbers that the state collected when they registered to run for office: and 801-226-8033 and 801-377-0790

Currently, Mark Openshaw has not returned emails from community members, including teachers, and at least one current member of the State School Board. His responses to the Tribune's questions were the shortest and most generic of all the candidates as well. He has not responded to questions from any other voting organizations that I am aware of, and in fact, I cannot find any position of his anywhere on the web. Is he under-prepared or just unresponsive? How I am supposed to tell the difference?

The problem is that his opponent, Kyle Bateman, is closely tied to Parents for Choice in education and has problematic views on vouchers, the "inefficiency" of education funding, and his role as an advocate for the schools. Besides his one response to UPS, he has avoided public comment as well.

Bateman was far and away the #1 choice of the biased "business block" on the governor's selection panel. Openshaw was the 2nd choice of the same block, and could likely hold similar views to Bateman since he was vetted by the same 6 people.

Right now, I'm feeling ripped off by the process and disappointed that the two candidates don't even care enough to state their positions somewhere.

So...what am I to do? I'm early voting this week , and my current plan is to write in A. LeGrand Richards as my choice for State School Board, unless C. Mark Openshaw puts up a website or something and really wows me with his views. Richards was the 1st choice of most of the school representatives on the selection committee and has excellent qualifications as a BYU education professor.

So seriously, write-in campaign for A. LeGrand Richards. My vast local readership and influence should net him 4 or 5 votes, easy.

Short, slight Tribune profiles of the two candidates for State School Board District 13 with no contact information
Kyle Bateman, District 13
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 10/24/2008 07:17:25 PM MDT

Qualifications: "School board member, Provo Freedom Academy; commissioner, Utah County Planning Commission; 23 years active in business administration; service on numerous nonprofit and for-profit boards."

Q: What is an issue in education you'd like to address?
A: In reality, we need to focus on only one outcome: school children receiving the best quality academic education possible. I support higher standards for academic achievement and more accountability in reaching those standards. I favor more autonomy for local boards, local schools and local classrooms to determine the best methods to achieve those standards. I favor more generous rewards for schools and teachers who meet and exceed our standards. And I favor more consistent consequences for schools and teachers to fail to meet those standards.
Q: What do you think is the board's role in relation to lawmakers' roles when it comes to education in Utah?
A: The board is an administrative body charged with the duties, powers and responsibilities outlined in section 53A of the Utah State Code. That code has been created by the State Legislature. So it is the role of the State Board of Education to execute these laws in a way that will assure the best possible outcome for Utah's school children. It is also appropriate for the Board and board members to communicate effectively with lawmakers about how the code could be amended.
Q: How can voters find out more?
No information provided.
C. Mark Openshaw, District 13
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 10/24/2008 07:17:44 PM MDT

Qualifications: "I have four children in the public school system, my wife is the PTA president - I, my family, and our future is invested in the system."

Q: What is an issue in education you'd like to address?
A: I'd like to see more accountability in the system. I would like to see more emphasis on math & sciences.
Q: What do you think is the board's role in relation to lawmakers roles when it comes to education in Utah?
A: Certainly cooperation and communication is required in order to promote the best policy. The board's role is one of general control and supervision of the public education system. I would support and implement policies and procedures affecting issues that involve education as required by the legislature.
Q: How can voters find out more?
A: No information provided.


Education is a voting issue in local 2008 races!

I generally agree with the idea that our state is generally well-run fiscally. I am very happy that we have a Rainy Day Fund earning interest and that $100 million in education money was set aside last session. I was fully supportive of the special session and saving the money through ongoing cuts when the forecasts are for state revenues to only get worse.

That said, how would voting for non-incumbents in local races lessen that emphasis on fiscal responsibility? In my opinion—not much at all. The moderate Republicans and many of the Democrats in this state would be hardcore Republicans in other states, while many local Republican legislators like Howard Stephenson and Craig Frank would be marginalized Libertarians. And most of the challengers can only be more trustworthy, more courteous, and more representative than Stephenson, Frank, Curtis, Hughes, Bramble, Buttars, etc.

Thus I feel free to search for candidates who more closely represent my views. It is possible to find legislators who better represent moderate viewpoints and avoid silly partisan power games. It is possible to find legislators who are both supportive of the ideals of public education AND fiscally responsible. Don’t buy into the false dichotomy being preached by many local incumbents: vote for me or Utah’s government will fall to Godless, spend-happy socialists.

Many legislators speak out of both sides of their mouth, constantly explaining how they are handcuffed because the state invests a high percentage of its revenue in education, but then dismissively trying to label voters who prioritize education as “single-issue voters.” Education spending accounts for over half of the money spent by the state government, so why shouldn’t it be at least half of voters’ criteria when selecting candidates? If new legislators would continue the good policies of our current legislature, but support public schools rather then attack them or manipulate their funding through suspect bills, I view it as a moral duty to vote for them.

These are some education issues that I believe are important both in their specific implementation and their longterm ramifications:

1. The voucher debacle willingly undertaken against the wishes of the people.

2. The omnibus education bill passed last session, SB 2, which abused all notions of good government ( besides being unconstitutional according to the Utah State Constitution) by stockpiling popular bills, and then rolling them together with pet projects of the influential Howard Stephenson on the 2nd to last day of the legislative session and passing the whole lot with little debate on the last day.

3. The constant chipping away of the citizens’ right to bypass or overrule those elected to represent them through initiatives and referendums like the one that overturned the voucher law. One of those unconstitutional laws passed this year, SB 53, which took away the right of the people to contest political bodies’ decisions on land use and was just overturned by the state supreme court, could also cost tens of thousands of dollars beyond what the state already wasted defending it if the complainants get their money reimbursed. I fear they have a great case.

4. Legislators lying about voucher opponents and costs (The USU Study), current school expenditures, and their views on public education.

5. Legislators not reading relevant materials to bills they’re discussing or actually visiting schools with programs they are discussing, but instead making decisions about education in Utah based on kook, conspiracist websites for information.

Get informed! Vote!


Friday, October 24, 2008

A few tidbits from the Bramble/Hatfield debate on Oct. 23rd

John and Sue Curtis kindly hosted a debate for both their State House and State Senate districts last night. I don’t live in those districts, but was able to attend for much of the evening.

I estimate that there were close to 100 people at the Curtis’ home last night. Senator Bramble and RaDene Hatfield debated in a large space downstairs while Representative Herrod and Claralyn Hill simultaneously debated in a large family room upstairs. There was a brief interval around 7:45 so people could switch places and view the other pair of candidates if they wished.

I think I can sum up the night in four general points.

1. Both John and Sue Curtis were gracious and informed debate moderators. They were well-spoken and moderated the debate firmly, but kindly, quickly cutting off any comments about the opposing candidate while allowing ample time for the candidates to express their views. The first question was “What is the one trait of your opponent’s that you admire most?” There were other creative and topical questions, and very specific ones about policy, including the presidential favorite: “If the economic downturn worsens, what will you cut?” (Sen. Bramble was the only one of the four who gave anything resembling a specific answer to that question.)

2. Incumbent candidates enjoy a huge advantage in debates because of their experience. They have almost certainly discussed the nuts and bolts more often than their opponents and just know more about most state issues that have been discussed at the legislature. Both Herrod and Bramble were able to be more specific about programs, laws, and statistics, and it frankly makes them look very credible. I temper that with the thought that their opponents would probably look equally informed after a couple years as part of the legislature, and knowledge does not always equal wisdom or good judgment. Herrod had some stats, was still very vague in places, but was more specific than Hill; Bramble was just head-and-shoulders more specific than Hatfield. He is a skilled orator—either “polished” or “slick” depending on the spin you want to put on it.

3. Bramble and Hatfield really don’t like each other.

4. The fourth point is just the story of a weird, tense moment and a request for information. I was in the basement waiting for the Bramble/Hatfield discussion to begin when the subject of filming the event came up. One organizer said they would welcome that, but just hadn’t been able to arrange for everything. Minutes later, a serious-looking young man with a camera and tripod came down accompanied by Sue Curtis. I think that KBYU was mentioned. He set up near the front while the crowd filtered into the room—including a large contingent of Brambles in the back, and eventually John Curtis began speaking about why they were hosting the event and how he was going to moderate the time. As part of these opening remarks, Curtis spoke of others trying to shape the event to fit other agendas, but did not elaborate.

Another man then arrived also holding a camera and tripod. He was corralled in the entrance way by Suzy Bramble and a tense discussion lasted for a couple of minutes. Mrs. Bramble eventually walked to the front and whispered in John Curtis’ ear. The man then attempted to enter the room and was physically blocked by one of Bramble’s adult sons. The man tried to get around him, but the son moved to prevent the man from stepping forward. The Bramble son was tense and honestly looked to me like he was about to deck the man. An angry, whispered argument took place, but I only heard the man say something like “After what she said to me?!” Curtis told the crowd something to the effect that one of those outside agendas had arrived and excused himself. He spoke briefly with the camera-toting man, and they both quietly went back upstairs. I didn’t see the man later when we went up to see Herrod and Hill.

Does anyone who reads this blog know anything about who the man was and why he wasn’t allowed to attend, or at least film the debate? I was racking my brain, but I really have no idea. I just am not up on the ins and outs of local political spats unless it gets in the paper or the blogs. My only vastly speculative guess would be that maybe it had to do with Fred Desposorio possibly wanting to participate…or something… As I said, I know nothing of Desposorio besides the recent primary results and what I skimmed on his website. I was just trying to brainstorm a plausible explanation for the confrontation.

Anyway, I really enjoy going to watch candidates speak in person because you get a sense of how they interact with others, especially those who disagree with them. That will play a huge factor in how they later communicate with their constituents and other legislators.

Education funding was debated a great deal by both sets of candidates, and Rep. Herrod gave the answer I enjoyed the most of the evening. It was a question on creative ways to find more funding for schools, and he answered that he honestly didn’t know the best solution to the complicated problem. He explained that education funding was one of the reasons he supported the development of oil shale and energy—they provide more and more funding to the school trustlands fund as more and more land is profitably leased. I am personally very skeptical of the claims of riches and cheap fuel quickly emerging from the shale considering the state of extraction technology, but school needs push me to accept the prospect of increased exploration and development if it maximizes available funding to help our schools. It is a pragmatic approach with multiple benefits to offset possible environmental negatives.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A short opinion about the Hughes Lawrence bribery charge

As a few others have said, I think the other 5 charges besides the bribe allegation against Hughes are extremely important and that they’re getting undercovered. I think the bribery charge will probably be dismissed by the Ethics Committee. Not because the huge amounts of out-of-state voucher funding pouring into our legislative and state school board races haven’t been slimy, but because the campaign funding laws are so lax.

As it now stands, every campaign donation, especially large ones, could be considered a bribe. If advocacy group x gives 20,000 dollars to a legislator to spend on whatever they want, it is a bribe and will be prosecuted. However, if advocacy group x gives 20,000 dollars to a legislator’s campaign fund, that’s perfectly legal. It is also perfectly legal for a legislator to pay taxes on that $20,000, and then spend it on whatever they want. Campaign accounts in Utah are 100% legal money laundering tools.

I’m heartened that even Lavarr Webb thinks ethics reform is coming:

By far, the vast majority of Utah political leaders are honest, ethical, upstanding individuals. That’s one reason some of them resent the continual media barrage on ethics reform. Precisely because they are honest, some view stricter ethics guidelines as unnecessary and bothersome. It grates on them that people would think they need strict regulations to keep them honest.

Despite that attitude, ethics reform is likely coming in the 2009 session. With current ethics complaints against legislators, and the media frenzy, the issue simply can no longer be ignored.

But I think the legislators are raging hypocrites on their self-righteous stance about impugning their honesty through ethics reform. Unnecessary and bothersome? I know that’s Webb talking, but that sums up their attitude perfectly. I bet even most legislators would admit that the vast majority of Utah teachers and even school district officials are honest, ethical, upstanding individuals. I know that to be true, but I would be suspicious if lobbyists were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on “gifts” and dinners for education employees each year and even more so if 80% or more of those didn’t have to be identified by name. Or if city lawyers, district judges, or Genola town clerks were accepting huge amounts of money from advocacy groups, and supposedly NOT for services rendered, just because they support the character of the individual...You’re telling me we should trust them. What a bunch of self-serving bologna…

To the legislature:
Ethics reform is not a media “barrage” or “frenzy.” You are not smarter than the 70%+ of your constituents that consistently poll in favor of ethics reform. You have “ignored” the issue for too long while hypocritically attacking presidential candidates and members of congress for similar indiscretions. I truly hope ethics reform becomes a huge issue at the ballot box.

Here’s a final article from the Tribune from April showing some retirement windfalls from both parties:
Campaign funds: Law lets leaders hold on to dough
Some are calling for more accountability on leftover balances in
lawmakers' coffers
By Sheena McFarland
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 04/07/2008 12:35:44 AM MDT

Sen. Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, hasn't given much thought to what he's
going to do with the $13,400 he has sitting in his campaign fund.
The retiring lawmaker likely will use some of it for travel
expenses for the rest of his term, which ends Dec. 31. But some may
end up tucked away in his pocket.
"I might support other candidates with it, but it would have to be
somebody I really liked," he said. "I'll probably just keep it and pay
taxes on it."
Under Utah statute, that's perfectly legal. Those running for or
serving in public office can use campaign funds any way they see fit.
It's a practice retiring Rep. Roz McGee, D-Salt Lake City, finds
"very unfortunate."
"I plan to plow mine back for the same kind of activity for which
people gave me money," she said, adding that the $7,600 she has left
will go toward other candidates' races.
Rep. Mark Walker, R-Sandy, is running for state treasurer, and he
will roll over the $18,800 he has left in his state House campaign
account into that race.
"I'm not going to get a boat this time," he joked.
Sandy Peck, executive director of the League of Women Voters, has
testified in support of legislation restricting such funds.
"We just thought that people would be really surprised that there
just were no limits on how that money could be spent," she said.
"When you give money to a candidate, it's for reasons to do with
their offices and services they are going to provide you as a
taxpayer," Peck said. "There should be some accountability and some
restriction on how it gets used."
State Sen. Dan Eastman, R-Bountiful, has the most leftover money
of any retiring lawmaker: $31,600. He plans to use most of it for
campaigns and charity.
"Maybe not 100 percent will go for those, but the majority will.
The rest, we'll just go ahead and see," he said. "But as I understand
it, there are no restrictions on how we can use that money."
Rep. Gordon Snow, R-Roosevelt, said he gave one-third of his
$3,000 to a candidate he supports but wouldn't name.
"I don't want to offend the other guys," he said. "Can't a guy
just walk away?"
Rep. LaWanna Shurtliff, D-Ogden, has the least amount left, with
about $1,700. She'll use it for postage and other expenses during the
remainder of her term.
"Many people keep some money in there in case they run again," she said.
That's proven beneficial for LaVar Christensen and Jay Seegmiller.
Christensen left the House in 2006 to run for Congress, but he still
has nearly $13,000 left in his legislative campaign fund, according to
his financial disclosure. Seegmiller has about $8,700 left. Both are
running again this year for legislative seats. Former House Majority
Leader Jeff Alexander has about $62,000 at his disposal, according to
his disclosure. Earlier, he said he does not plan to spend it but
rather save it for his next run at office.
But others who have been retired for several years still have
significant amounts left. Al Mansell, who chose not to run again for
his Senate seat in 2006, still has $45,600 in his account, according
to his disclosure. He could not be reached for comment.
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and his communications director,
Karen Hale, both ran bills when they served in the Legislature to
require candidates to put surplus funds into political campaigns,
nonprofit organizations or the state's general fund.
Hale said it was "unbelievable to see the reactions" of
legislators arguing against passing such a bill.
"They would say 'I really earned this money. I've given up
personal time and sacrificed for this office,' " Hale said. "But
public service is just that: service."
Becker's legislation, which he ran several years, never saw the
light of day in a Legislature hostile to most so-called ethics reform
He said he can't speak to legislators' motivations, but did say
many "justified" using the money to take trips with their spouses or
benefit themselves in some way.
"It leaves open the potential for real abuse," he said. "When
people give money for political campaigns . . . those monies are not
intended to be for personal use."

Leaving happy

Retiring lawmakers and their campaign fund balances
* Sen. Dan Eastman, R-Bountiful: $31,657.33
* Sen. Darin Peterson, R-Nephi: $29,972.22
* Rep. Mark Walker, R-Sandy: $18,836.31
* Sen. Mike Dmitrich, D-Price: $13,434.56
* Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George: $11,632.06
* Rep. Roz McGee, D-Salt Lake City: $7,615.73
* Rep. Gordon Snow, R-Roosevelt: $3,140.33
* *Former Rep. Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake City: $2,869.35
* Rep. LaWanna Shurtliff, D-Ogden: $1,686.21
*Current Salt Lake City mayor
Source: Candidate financial disclosures

Friday, October 10, 2008

October Admission--Representative Frank talks out of the other side of his mouth in a national forum as Senator Stephenson's little sidekick

I want to take us back to two bills that became laws and one that failed. They all dealt with forced privatization of public services and were sponsored and co-sponsored by Senator Howard Stephenson and Representative Craig Frank. HB 75 and SB 45 passed; HB 76 did not.

Voice of Utah wrote a post in January that made fun of HB 76 and Rep. Frank a little bit. Rep. Frank eventually saw the post and responded with two posts of his own on his Under the Dome blog, claiming that his bill was misrepresented. (Rep. Frank's blog is currently inactive and malfunctioning--the formatting is all messed up and there were comments from Voice of Utah and others that no longer show up, though you can still read his posts and watch the embedded video. Notice his most recent post on Mar. 24th with his coded claim that teachers can't be Republican delegates.)

In that second post of Rep. Frank's, he titles specifically references the Voice of Utah blog and says "STOP THE LYING, DUDE…READ THE BILL… HB75 (2nd SUB) DOES NOT PROHIBIT MUNICIPALITIES FROM BUILDING COMMUNITY POOLS"

He types his command to not lie in caps while ironically ignoring the fact that the post in question specifically mentions the failed HB 76 and even quotes from it. The now missing comments contained some further disagreement about Rep. Frank's misinformation. Rep. Frank also specifically denies in his video in the first post that he is going after community "recreation centers, and swimming pools, and other local entities."

Wednesday's UPD gets a big hat tip for showcasing the recognition that Sen. Stephenson and Rep. Frank received from a national advocacy group for smaller government called the Reason Foundation. (I agree with many principles espoused by smaller government advocates. I definitely agree with the Reason Foundation's apparent push against mandated, universal preschool. I strongly disagree with Reason Foundation's ""Director of Education and Child Welfare," Lisa Snell, that all public education is wrong and that vouchers should be mandated in all states.)

The two Utah legislators were recognized as Innovators in Action for "getting government out of the business of business." The detailed interview with Frank and Stephenson is on pgs. 14-20 of the newsletter, but because of the unnumbered introductory pages, it shows up as pgs. 18-24 when I'm looking at it in Adobe. When interviewed in a setting outside of Utah, which government activities does Rep. Frank consider to be illegitimate?

Quoting Rep. Frank from pg. 16:
It’s my belief that government shouldn’t be in the business of business. For example, you’ve got some of our local governments that are providing rec centers, pools and other facilities that are going head-to-head with local, private gyms...

And on pg. 20:
As the inventory and accounting systems are further developed in the future, I’d like to see some of those “taboo” entities that were excluded through this process, reintroduced for further investigation—independent entities, public and high education, etc. ...
Every time we say “less,” we increase freedom. If we don’t do these things, we do just the opposite—take away someone’s freedom. Because I’m part of the process, I know that for a fact.

First, Craig Frank purposely misled his constituents. He heard the outcry criticizing his HB 76 bill which specifically addressed county and municipal functions and forbid even potential conflicts with conceivable businesses as detailed by Voice of Utah. He then misled voters by pretending the claims were false attacks on his HB 75 and denied on his local blog that he would get rid of community pools and rec centers. But when Rep. Frank discussed the bills with the national advocacy group whose water he is carrying (and who apparently sent "experts" to help convince the legislators to vote for the bill. See pgs. 19 and 20), he voiced his true opinions, apparently secure that either no one would see, or that no one would care. He may very well be right when speaking of his district.

Second, Rep. Frank has the sadly common view among extreme right-wing Republicans in Utah that education would be improved by being totally privatized. It's "business" that should be done by business, rather than a public necessity. Senator Stephenson predictably agrees and throws around the false boogie man of socialism to justify his extreme views. You can get quality cars and toasters on the free market...if you can afford them. So education would be better that way too...

From pg. 15:
Somehow we like the idea that free markets bring us the highest quality of food anywhere in the world at low prices, that we get quality cars and appliances, you name it…the free market works just great. But when it comes to the education of our children, socialism is good enough. When it comes to golf courses, socialism is preferable. When it comes to fitness centers, socialism is great.

I don't expect Representative Frank to lose his election, but I believe that is due more to party loyalty rather than the majority of his constituents holding his extreme views. I think most of them would be angry if Rep. Frank and Sen. Stephenson tried to force their ideological agenda by butting in on local rec centers, golf courses, or Pleasant Grove's rights to contract garbage service. The two legislators view public education as "socialism" and belittle anyone with views more moderate than theirs. I know Utah can do better than that.