Both sides make final push on voucher issue
Referendum 1 has less than one week before Utah voters decide the fate of school vouchers. Those in favor and those against are exercising similar strategies to win supporters.
The Utah Education Association held its annual meeting Monday and Tuesday. It is commonly believed that more teachers go hunting during the extended weekend than attend the UEA convention. However, this UEA convention seemed different. Teachers came to the Salt Palace convention in droves, this year hunting vouchers with verbal guns cracking.
After discussing the fire tragedy in Southern California, Kim Campbell, president of UEA said, "We are addressing our own firestorm next week on Nov. 6."
The audience of about 500 clapped and hooted, more as if they were attending a political rally than a group of educators focused on a spreadsheet presented on an overhead projector.
Attendees were asked to grab anti-voucher lawn signs. Kathryn Austin, 8, held one of the signs that was almost wider than her armspan. She and her sister Maddie, 6, are the granddaughters of a teacher attending the convention. While Kathryn wanted people to support her cause, at times she wasn’t quite sure what that was. With signs in hand, hundreds left the building, then regrouped on West Temple Street in front of the Salt Palace.
Representative Christine Johnson, who represents parts of Salt Lake and western Summit County, said she is e-mailing constituents with her "top 10 reasons" why not to vote for vouchers. "Vouchers are one of the worst things to happen to education," she said. Johnson said she and constituents will be walking door to door in the last week.
Mark Mickelson, spokesperson for UEA, said of the final week, "We have a lot of people going door to door canvassing. We also have (UEA) members calling people who are likely to vote. We’re fairly certain vouchers will be defeated."
Just as passionate are the supporters of Referendum 1.
"I consider this the most important vote of our time. Parents have to realize that this is our last chance," said Leah Barker, executive director for Children First Utah and spokesperson for Parents for Choice in Education. Barker admitted being "totally exhausted" but that she and other supporters of school vouchers are pulling together grass-roots support. She said supporters are contacting voters who are undecided.
"First and foremost, this has always been about the children," she said. "When you are low-income, you don’t have many options. Instead of throwing more money at the problem, we’re going to put parents in the driver’s seat." She assessed the mood of voucher supporters. "We’re feeling really excited. Several things worked in our favor in the last week."
She cited what she considered a successful press conference hosted by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., and the endorsement of Referendum 1 by Catholic Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake, an advocate of lower-income families. "We also had a coalition of major businesses coming out, showing support for vouchers support across the board," she said.
"We’re going to win."
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Hideout residents have begun the process to challenge the town’s annexation of Richardson Flat. The referendum application is in its early stages, but a group of residents will be tasked with collecting about 100 signatures in coming months to put the question to voters.