…so when the Parents for Choice in Education (PCE) vampires launched their hostile takeover of the Utah Association for Public Charter Schools (UAPCS) in order to get their Vouchers Plus program passed, the one thing they absolutely wanted to avoid was any sunshine or public comment on their plans. Because we all know how that turned out last time. For that, they would find no better friend than dairy farmer/bull semen merchant Bill Wright.
Wright, who has spent the better part of the last two decades in the Utah legislature while other people milk and service his cows, is the sponsor behind HB 116, which seeks to re-establish the plantation system in Utah by providing guest worker visas for Mexicans to furnish slave labor to Utah’s dairy industry. Since the federal government is the traditional source in the United States for visas of any kind, presumably Utah will have to secede first for Wright’s law to take any effect, but don’t worry, there’s a plan in the works for that too.
Well, I digress. Wright is also the chairman of the House Education Committee through which any
voucher charter school legislation must pass. We can see his evident qualifications for the job as Education funding overseer in his own “mission statement” published at the website for his bovine breeding business:
“Too [sic] breed & develop the best Holstein Cattle possible. Too [sic] not only have productive cattle, but cows that have great potential to grow and develop to be attractive cows. To have cattle you can enjoy walking through the corral to look at.”
Wright’s iron fist
Wright runs the Education Committee with an iron fist, so to speak, and public comment is practically speaking, verboten. This is essential when you have legislation that is designed to drain public coffers while removing oversight and accountability, something that is generally not received well by ordinary citizens, irrespective of political persuasion.
Two bills with this precise purpose emerged this week from the top secret caucuses where they had been brewing. Now even reporters are barred from these hermetically sealed caucuses for the first time in Utah’s history, while a bill that totally guts the GRAMA law which guarantees public access to government records is barreling toward passage. The school district looting and charter school oversight removal bills appeared at Wright’s committee where public comment was essentially banned, which naturally led to a favorable vote on both. The public’s role at Utah’s legislature is becoming increasingly clear: to fund the trough that lured their “representatives” to the Capitol in the first place, and to do it silently and without complaint.
Then and now
Once upon a time in committee hearings, a clipboard was circulated for the public to sign that the chair could review and evaluate in order to organize the time available for public comment. Wright still has the clipboard. He’s just eliminated the comment. “We only have time to hear from one person on each side, for and against, so, sorry if you came a long way,” he said, not sorry at all. “One person from each side can speak for one minute” he added. Wright, who evidently was paying attention in history if not English classes, knows the secret for making the trains run on time, and it does not involve public participation. Unsurprisingly, when the subject matter was a little less controversial, Wright was suddenly generous with his time, placing no such restrictions on comment about providing taxpayer funded buses for five year olds.
The bills now move to the House floor where they join the tsunami of legislation that must be voted on before the legislature adjourns next Thursday. And there are more charter bills on the way, because when you raid an association’s bank account to buy a legislative hitman like Chris Bleak, you sort of expect a return on investment, so diversification is key. Bleak learned about Return On Investment (ROI) from the very best, but more on that later.
2011’s top secret Utah charter school legislation
The bills that UAPCS/PCE managed to conceal throughout the entire legislative session until they were unveiled this week and shoved through Wright’s committee are:
- HB 313 which allows charter schools to raid 100% of local property tax revenue assigned to local school districts. (Sponsor: Merlynn Newbold) The House Revenue and Taxation Committee passed Newbold’s Not-A-Companion-Bill HB 301 last week, which suspends truth-in-taxation hearings for a year, the better to avoid any inconvenient public squealing when the inevitable property tax increases kick in to fund HB 313.
- HB 388 which removes charter schools from financial and other oversight by the already seriously weak Utah Charter School Board. (Sponsor: Chris Herrod) Herrod was so tongue-tied when it came to describing and defending his bill that he was forced to call the bill’s true sponsor, former representative Brian Allen, to rescue him. Allen proceeded to soothe the committee, promising that the bill meant exactly the opposite of what it said, and charters would have plenty of oversight.
Wright was not about to have a repeat of Monday’s hearing where he allowed six minutes of comment and HB 313 only barely passed. So he allowed the dreadfully inarticulate deputy state superintendent Martell Menlove a minute to provide token testimony against the bill, before ramming it through the vote. Greg Hughes, who studiously avoids attending any of these education committee meetings unless summoned by a text message when the vote looks dangerously close, as occurred on Monday with HB 313, didn’t bother to show up. With committee members having forgotten all about the legislative audit calling for more oversight of charters rather than less, and no-one to remind them, the vote in favor was unanimous.
Accidental UAPCS/PCE lobbyist Kim Frank told the Salt Lake Tribune that it was “outrageous” to suggest that this was all happening too quickly and that further raiding of public monies and the removal of oversight for charter schools has been under discussion for seven years now, proving once again the limited skill set which led PCE to hire heavy hitter Bleak. I’ll make it really simple: Pillow talk with your husband and closed caucus meetings with your friends don’t count as discussion.