More problem solving, please

By By Anastasia Niedrich

By Anastasia Niedrich

Whenever I squabble with my friends or loved ones, at some point I realize the sum of the “argument calculus,” as I call it. If we were to spend the same amount of time working together to fix the problem that we’re arguing about, we would likely have fewer problems and arguments.

I see this situation as an analogy that could be used to describe the recent battle over school vouchers in this year’s election.

I don’t care whether you are for or against vouchers — we’re all entitled to our opinions. What I am here to discuss is how bothered I am by the massive amount of time, money and resources that both sides just expended on the voucher battle, aka Referendum 1.

Referendum 1 was a ballot measure in our recent election that asked voters to approve or reject the private school voucher program that the Legislature narrowly passed and the governor signed into law last General Session. If Referendum 1 had passed, the voucher program would have started next fall and provided state-funded vouchers in varying amounts between $500 and $3,000 per child for use in attending private school, depending on the parents’ income.

Referendum 1 failed to pass with nearly two-thirds of Utahns in opposition.

The pro-voucher lobbyists spent an estimated $8.5 million in this election to push for the passage of Referendum 1. The anti-voucher lobbyists spent an estimated $4.4 million to oppose the passage. That totals at least $12.9 million dollars spent on both sides of the proposed government-subsidized school voucher program in Utah this year alone. This figure does not include the costs of time and personnel resources that both sides used in the battle.

Spending $12.9 million on one ballot measure in an election probably doesn’t seem unreasonable in the grand scheme of things — until you think about the plethora of other, likely better ways you could spend that much money.

Getting to the core of what both sides say they care about — Utah’s students — how could the $12.9 million have been spent to help students? $12.9 million could help higher education students by decreasing tuition $369 for every student at the U. $12.9 million could help K-12 education by putting another computer in every Utah classroom. The money could give every K-12 teacher in Utah a $500 raise. Seeing how Utah is currently ranked as the 16th-highest state for teachers losing their licenses for sexual misconduct, the money could also be used to run more thorough background checks of school employees to try and help stop sexual abuse of Utah’s students.

All of this is not to say the voucher battle should not have been fought, or that vouchers are not an important issue for Utahns. What I am saying is that it seems many people or groups in society spend more money, time and other resources fighting over issues than they do actually trying to solve the problems they’re fighting about in the first place.

I witnessed many examples of this while I was an intern at the Utah State Legislature last General Session. Legislators spent more time and effort arguing over things like whether or not farmers should be able to sell raw, unpasteurized milk than they spent discussing more widespread issues like increases in child support money and penalties for animal abuse. Although I’m sure the raw milk issue is life or death to some people — especially farmers — in the grand scheme of things, I think the majority of us could agree that the importance of helping Utah’s kids or animals far outweighs the importance of Utahns’ ability to buy raw milk.

As we now turn our attention to prepare for the 2008 elections and beyond, I think we should consider a change in the way we do things. Instead of arguing and spending millions of dollars waging war against each other over a single issue at everyone’s detriment, we should, whenever possible, do what we can to reach compromises when disagreements arise. Focusing our time and resources on helping each other is a better way to approach things than arguing and bringing each other down. Together, we can build a Utah that we can all enjoy and be proud of — a Utah whose laws, programs and problem-solving actions exemplify the collegial, caring, innovative nature of its people.

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