Monday, December 6, 2010

Final Assignment – Answering the Voucher Question

When our nation asks, “how are the children?” the resounding answer in the education climate today is, “the children are not well, the schools are not well.” Mike Feinberg, co-founder of the successful charter program, the Kipp Schools, urged Denver business and community members to reflect on the state of the nation’s children at a breakfast last month.

Following the education documentary “Waiting for Superman,” the Kipp schools have been lauded for the achievement rates of their lower-income, minority students. Their recipe for success?

Feinberg argues that the education conversation should gather around three pillars, the same that have made his schools a success – more time on task for both students and teachers, giving school administration more autonomy and power to lead, and finally, choice.

The school leader argues that the government is holding a monopoly on education by attending primarily to public schools, some that are failing the needs of students. In any monopoly, says Feinberg, the cost for the product increases as the value decreases. He says that American education will only get better when schools have to start competing for the attention of parents and students.

Though Feinberg did not mention them, other advocates of school choice are pushing for vouchers, which would give parents government money to send their children to private schools. Some argue that such programs are detriments to the improvement of the public school system. Others say they are only fair.

Darcie Ullmann, who sits on the parents’ board at St. Mary Catholic School in Greeley, Colorado agrees with Feinberg that choice is vital in educating the next generation. She would like to see a state voucher program that would give tax refunds to parents who choose not to enroll their children in public school. “We should be able to send our kids to the schools we want them to attend. I pay property tax that goes to schools my children don’t. I should be able to use the money that the government collects from me to educate my kids.”

Douglas County School District is in the initial phase of implementing a full-fledged voucher program, but one that would still grant some district control over the funds dolled out. Douglas Country schools are some of the best in the state. Ullmann argues that such programs are needed in more struggling districts.

“The public schools in Greeley are having a tough time. Vouchers can enable poorer families to send their kids to private schools and get a better education than public schools are offering.”

As reported in the Denver Post, other parents are not as gung-ho about vouchers. Cindy Bernard, a Douglas County parent is firmly opposed to giving government funds to private school families. "This scares the hell out of me. Mixing public funds for private schools, in my opinion, is wrong."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

9News does not see flood of political ads that some predicted

Despite predictions by some that January’s Citizens United decision would release torrents of money into campaigns, the Supreme Court ruling has not drastically affected the amount of political advertising at 9News, said Mark Cornetta, the station’s president and general manager.

“There isn’t any real evident to support that since Citizens United the money has come out of the wood work,” he said.

Over two years, ago, the station has not seen a great deal more ads, he said.

The amount of ads 9News has seen does not follow with some forecasts that Citizens United was going to unleash an unprecedented amount of money into politics.

In a speech made shortly after the decision, President Obama said, "This ruling opens the floodgates for an unlimited amount of special interest money into our democracy. It gives the special interest lobbyists new leverage to spend millions on advertising to persuade elected officials to vote their way - or to punish those who don't."

The numbers 9News has seen do not suggest the opening of floodgates and millions more dollars being pumped into advertising, however.

“[Citizens United] really didn’t change a whole lot,” said Cornetta.

The station’s 2010 political advertising revenue was down from 2008.

Revenues from political ads during the political window in 2010 were $10 million from candidates and $9 million from “soft” donors, like non-profits and tax-exempt groups.

The revenue from the 2008 political window, a presidential year, was $16 million from candidates and $14 million from soft donors.

“2008 was really the watershed,” said Cornetta.

Though the number of ads did not change significantly from 2008 to 2010, a difference this year was more advertising for health care and other issues running outside of the political window time period, said Patricia Wilson, general sales manager at 9News.

The political window is the 45 days leading up to the primary and the 60 days leading up to the election.

Political advertising during the window has the potential to pose challenges for broadcasters in scheduling with regular advertisers, but 9News planned well this year and did not see any issues with this, said Cornetta.

The number of political ads “hasn’t been problematic” with regular advertisers, he said.

The sales department saw an accommodation by regular advertisers, who anticipated the period of political advertising from experiences in 2008, said Wilson.

Viewers did express frustration with the number of ads, though, and sent the station complaints.

“It becomes exhausting for viewers,” said Cornetta. “It does tend to wear on people.”

Several DU students shared their views on political advertising in general in this video:

If 9News hears that a political ad is not factually-sound, they will look into the issue and take it seriously, said Cornetta. The station investigates the factualness of some of the ads and reports its findings to viewers during news broadcasts in truth test segments.

However, given the volume of ads, and the fact that many ads change several times a week, it is nearly impossible for 9News to fact-check all of them, said Cornetta.

In addition, it is not the station’s responsibility, nor legal right, to investigate all ads and censor candidates by pulling certain ads, he said.

“We’re not allowed to censor candidates,” said Cornetta. “We have the requirement from the government to make the public airwaves available for political discourse.”