Monday, August 06, 2007

Watch your (voucher) language!

If the choice of words is any indication, they may have a point. Voucher supporters, including many lawmakers, favor words that carry strong emotions in conservative Utah - such as "government schools," "unions" and "education bureaucracy" - when criticizing public schools and the board.

Salt Lake Tribune - As debate rages, Ed panel chief stands firm against private school vouchers

If the polls are any indication, however, vouchers in Utah are headed for defeat (45% of voters are "very likely" to vote against vouchers while only 12% are "very likely" to vote for them, according to a July 9 KSL-Deseret Morning News survey).

As an English teacher I'm particularly interested in the language employed. In UnSpun, Jackson & Jamieson do a good job of illustrating that whatever side "frames the issue, claims the issue." In my opinion the pro-voucher folks are doing a much better job on the language front than in the polls. Take the ballot language for instance. Those opposed to vouchers take nearly 250 words to make their point, and I think the first-time reader will have to slog through these facts:
  • Reasonable Choices Are Available Utah already offers many good choices through "open enrollment" and charter schools. Taxpayers can't fund every choice.
  • Proposed Voucher Laws are Inadequate Even with last-minute legislative "patch work," voucher laws authorize schools with too little oversight, no real coursework or attendance requirements, lax standards for teachers and minimal accountability to taxpayers. Risk of inadequate and unstable schools is high.
  • Whom Would Vouchers Help? Probably not the disadvantaged. Even with vouchers, parents with a modest income couldn't afford to send their children to good private schools.
  • Is There "Additional Money" For Public Schools? No. For five years, transferring students would be double funded by taxpayers - in the private schools and the public schools they left behind. Thereafter, public school funding would be cut to reflect lost enrollment.
  • Would Vouchers Prevent Tax Increases? Unlikely. Subsidizing students now privately funded creates a projected deficit of almost a half billion dollars. These dollars would come from other worthy projects like health care, public safety and roads. If we have extra taxpayer money, it would be better spent reducing class sizes and improving Utah's public schools.
  • "Bureaucrats and Liberals"? Who are they? Not the 29,000 dedicated, caring and underpaid teachers in our neighborhood schools; also not Utah's commonsense conservative citizens who oppose another entitlement program. The real "bureaucrats and liberals" are the subsidy advocates and out-of-state voucher pushers looking for Utah to save their faltering national movement. VOTE NO ON VOUCHERS

Yikes! I read that and feel like I've been flogged. Contrast it with the 75-word pro-voucher language penned by Rep. Steve Urquhart:

It's simple. A vote for vouchers is a vote to improve education. If you vote "Yes,"
  • school funding will improve
  • children's options and opportunities will increase
  • academic achievement will go up
  • parents will gain a stronger voice within the system.
Why is there such a fuss over 0.0025% of the education budget? Because some people think the status quo is good enough. Let's do better. Vote FOR Vouchers to improve education.

All I can say is, Mr. Urquhart must have had an effecitve English teacher.

1 comment:

andbrooke said...

Yikes. I agree. It makes you wonder what will happen between now and November. Voucher advocates usually portray their defeats (as in CA) as a result of slick-talking unions that bully the media and the voters into doing what they want. I don't think they can make that case for Utah. If vouchers are voted down, it certainly won't be because it was a beauty contest.

I referenced the same article. The contrast between Urquhart's comments and the comments of other voucher advocates is startling.