Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Ethan Orr Doesn't Want To Talk About His Support For Vouchers (Or Anything Else That Makes Him Look Like A Conservative Republican)

Posted By on Wed, Oct 8, 2014 at 10:30 AM

Monday night, the Weekly hosted a debate, moderated by Jim Nintzel, for Legislative District 9 House candidates: Democrats Randy Friese and Victoria Steele; and Republican Ethan Orr. It was a revealing, informative session. While Steele and Friese mostly said what they meant clearly and plainly, Orr did his best to obscure his stands on issues like vouchers, gun regulation and women's reproductive rights, all of which mirror the positions of his fellow Republican legislators. Orr is trying desperately to run as a member of the Moderate Party, so he confuses and denies his views which align too closely with conservatives, views which are sometimes even to the right of old-school-conservative Jan Brewer. [Full disclosure: I'm a Democrat who supports Steele and Friese, in case there was any question about that.] [UPDATE: The entire debate has been posted on youtube.]

I'm going to focus on Orr's two minute answer to one question about education, because it crystallizes the way Orr ducks, dodges and obfuscates on issues when he wants to appear more progressive than he actually is. Nintzel asked,


"Do you support the expansion of the Education Savings Accounts, the voucher-like program that would allow public dollars to flow to private schools?"

Both Friese and Steele gave a clear, unequivocal "No" at the beginning of their answers and went on to explain their positions. Orr's answer was a flurry of disconnected points which may have sounded like they addressed the question but actually ranged over all kinds of unrelated, often deceptive, territory.

Orr focused on the one time he voted against a voucher bill, not mentioning that he voted for six other vouchers bills (there may be more), one of which he sponsored. Brewer vetoed two of them, including the one with Orr's name on it. Next he name-dropped a progressive educator even though she disagrees with him. In his explanation of his support for some of the voucher bills, he made a nonsense statement that left my mind boggled and my head shaking. And then, half way through his two minutes, when he ran out of things he was willing to say about vouchers, Orr had a Miss-America-contestant's-worst-answer-ever moment where he wandered off into talking about the relationship between charter schools and public schools, neither of which have any direct connection to vouchers, meandering around aimlessly and a bit desperately until his time was up.

I included the complete transcript of Orr's answer at the end of the post so you'll know I'm not making this up. It'll also allow his supporters to salvage some stray good moments from his answer and blame me for not being an objective reporter (Note: I'm not a reporter, I'm a blogger — that's kinda like a columnist — who uses facts to back up his analyses.)

Orr began his answer by talking about the one time he voted against one of the ESA expansion bills. That's one of his favorite tactics, to show how he, as he said in his answer, "stood up to my own party." Then, in reference to his one No vote, Orr said, "In fact one of the books I would highly recommend I read before I made that vote was Reign of Error, and much of my educational policies will be shaped by that book."

Reign of Error is the most recent book by Diane Ravitch, a very, very progressive educator who opposes vouchers and school privatization. If anyone is interested, the relevant chapters in the book are "Chapter 19: The Failure of Vouchers" and "Chapter 32: Privatization of Public Education is Wrong." Orr name-dropped the book — he did the same thing in the earlier Clean Elections debate — to look like he's thoughtful and progressive-minded about education, even though Ravitch would absolutely disagree with the voucher votes Orr was trying to defend.

Next, Orr defended his votes to increase the number of students who can get vouchers. His basic argument was, children who are severely educationally disabled need other options, which sounds reasonable, except that the stated goal of most Republican legislators and the Goldwater Institute is to use the educationally disabled children as a wedge to eventually make the vouchers available to all students, and Orr knows it. But Orr even confused that rationale. Here's what he said:


"You look at the [sound unclear] formula for most schools, children that are outliers, the schools are actually losing money on them, and so this was a way for parents to provide an alternative for those kids, and I actually talked to many of the superintendents about it, they were OK with that."

What does the fact that schools are losing money on the "outlier" children have to do with the parents using vouchers to find an "alternative for those kids"? And since he also voted to give vouchers to children from military families, does he also consider them "outlier" kids who the schools are losing money on?

Now comes Orr's Miss-America-contestant's-worst-answer-ever moment. He used up half his two minute time, and he ran out of ways to sound like he was against vouchers before he was for them, or whatever point he was trying to make. So he left vouchers entirely and started talking about the relationship between charter schools — they get the same kind of per pupil funding as school districts, they're not a voucher program — and what he called "public schools" (Actually, charter schools are "public schools" as well, since they're publicly funded). Here's how he began the second minute.

"The big problem that they’re looking at when we’re talking about vouchers and ESAs is really the transparency within the charter school system and the transition from the charter schools to the public schools."

No, Ethan, that's not the "big problem that they're looking at." There's no relationship between vouchers and what you're talking about.

Then he took a meandering ramble into nowhere. Here are the steps.

• My dad and mom taught in TUSD. I taught at UA.
• Charter schools "pick the cream of the crop."
• When charter school students transition back to public schools, we have to help bring them "back up to grade level." [But didn't you just say they're the cream of the crop?]

When he finished with that, he still had 15 seconds left. He had to fill the empty space. So he finished up like this.

"And so this is not just an easy thing you can just throw a platitude at. This is a conversation we need to have and continue to have with our educational leaders, our superintendents and our teachers."

That's what Shakespeare might call "sound and fury signifying nothing."

This answer may be an extreme example, but it's the kind of thing Orr does on a regular basis when he's trying to establish his Moderate cred. When he's talking about a topic he wants to evade, he just starts his mouth running at top speed and throws out so much stuff the audience figures, if the guy has that much to say, it must mean something.

Here's the entire two minute answer.

"To set the record straight on some of the ESAs, the voucher bills, I was one of 7 Republicans that stood up to my own party. In fact, that’s one of the reasons the Arizona Education Association has endorsed my candidacy and is working with me. To block the ESA bill that would have expanded based on geography. I think that was the one that was out of the policy alignment and it went too far. In fact one of the books I would highly recommend I read before I made that vote was Reign of Error, and much of my educational policies will be shaped by that book.

"There were two other ESAs, and you look at what educational savings accounts were set up for historically, a few years ago, it was to take students that were not working within our public education system and provide them an option. So there were two ESA bills that were referenced earlier. One would expand for severely disabled including autistic children and the other for incoming children of militaries. And you look at the [sound unclear] formula for most schools, children that are outliers, the schools are actually losing money on them, and so this was a way for parents to provide an alternative for those kids, and I actually talked to many of the superintendents about it, they were OK with that.

"The big problem that they’re looking at when we’re talking about vouchers and ESAs is really the transparency within the charter school system and the transition from the charter schools to the public schools. One of the things that is so important to me in comparing charter schools to public schools — my dad who is here taught for TUSD his entire life as did my mom and I taught at the University of Arizona for over a decade. When we compare the two, charter schools can pick the cream of the crop. Public schools can’t. And so when charter schools transition another student back, you need to make sure that student is equipped and if they are equipped, one of the [sound unclear] back to the public school, that we need to help the public school bring that student back up to grade level.

"And so this is not just an easy thing you can just throw a platitude at. This is a conversation we need to have and continue to have with our educational leaders, our superintendents and our teachers."

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