Monday, November 19, 2007

IQ/Insanity Tests for Utah's Voters - So which is it?

Patrick Byrne, CEO of and a tireless school choice supporter, published a strongly worded op-ed in Saturday's Salt Lake Tribune, sounding his own "grito" against Utah's declining education system. The rhetoric is strong and maybe off-putting to some, but his righteous anger is something to be admired.

Here's the problem, though: Byrne's argument is that Utah's schools are not working for low-income and minority students and thus, Utah needs school choice. While this is true, we already know that not even the voters who supported the vouchers did so because of a concern for poor/Latino/African-American children. Thus, we have a marketing problem on our hands. Byrne is missing an opportunity to connect with voters and tap into their value system as a way to motivate them to vote for vouchers.

There are better arguments. The Tribune's polls show that voucher opponents in Utah were largely frightened that the voucher program would take money away from public schools. I can affirm this; while I was in Utah, every Referendum One opponent that I spoke with cited the argument "Vouchers take money away from public schools." Every. single. one.

So while I understand that Byrne was speaking on his own behalf - and probably not thinking about how to best "market" the school choice cause - his words still raise some imoortant questions for those of us involved in school choice. It may seem ironic and counter-intuitive, but perhaps the best way to GET school choice for low-income and minority students is actually to focus less on those students themselves and more on the worries of the voters.

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