Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Investing in Our Children

Recently, I heard someone say that the cure for Utah's Public Education problem rests in the support and creation of public charter schools. Now, this isn't a post about public charter schools, because I don't mind charter schools. I would like to have more research about them and how they will impact education funding for a regular public school... but right off the top, they don't send me running for the hills.

What really caught my attention, however, was that this person was talking about charter schools as the "cure" for Utah's Public Education woes. I had to stop and think... what is the problem with Utah Education, anyway? Is it so broken that we have to throw out all the public schools and start over?

Charter schools are public schools open to all students. They operate on public funds without tuition, just like a regular public school. From what I can see as an outsider, the main difference between a charter school and a regular public school is the level of parental involvement in the child's education. Charter schools are generally started by parents who want more input in their child's learning, and want more input regarding the curriculum taught within the school.

So is that it? Is that the problem? Not enough parental involvement?

To try to understand what the perceived problem is, I did some more research. I figured that the best way to determine what is going wrong is to look at how well (or poorly) Utah students are doing. What surprised me, is that in spite of Utah's blatant refusal to fully fund public education, at first glance it looks as though Utah students tend to perform *higher* than students in other states. It would appear that Utah teachers are doing a fabulous job with less resources than ever.

If you look at the data a little more closely, however, it begins to break down. For example, Utah students' writing scores are below average. And, when you separate the scores of our students based on things like ethnic group or economic status, our Caucasian students are below the national Caucasian average, our ethnic minority students are below the national ethnic minority average, and, the most startling of all, Utah students suffer from some of the largest achievement gaps in the country.

The Deseret news reported in July 2005:

"Achievement gaps between whites and minorities and the haves and have-nots have taken center stage under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Controversy erupted in Utah ...when the state challenged the federal law's reach in Utah schools. Advocates feared Utah would end up ignoring performance of ethnic minorities and other student groups; state education chiefs vowed that would not happen."

Utah's achievement gap is not anything new. Many Utah schools have been working for years to try to solve the problem. Unfortunately, they need more resources to do it, and some need better systems in place to reach the students who aren't performing well. I think the problem is also compounded by the myriad of federal regulations that tend to weigh down local schools, just making it more difficult for teachers to be successful.

This is all made worse by another problem: Utah is facing a teaching shortage in the next five years. 788 teachers are expected to retire this year. 1/2 of all teachers in Utah leave the profession within the first 5 years.

So while charter schools aren't necessarily a *bad* idea, I don't see how they will solve the achievement gap problem. Really, I think fully funding public education and working to educate all of Utah's children and help them to be successful is a completely different issue. Charter schools won't fix this problem, unless there are charter schools specifically geared to minority and underachieving students.

That brings me right back to my question... is it parental involvement that makes the difference? Maybe. But if the achievement gap occurs because of lack of parental involvement, then a charter school won't help, it would seem to reason that it is likely that the parents of the underachievers won't rally together to get the charter school started in the first place. It isn't necessarily because these parents are deadbeat parents, either. Chances are that moms and dads are are working two jobs just to make ends meet. They just don't have the *time* to be involved, no matter how much they would like to be.

I believe that every child deserves a quality education, whether or not their parents are highly involved. Some may not like that sentiment. The fact is, 90% of Utah's children attend public schools, and yet the Utah Public Education System continues to beg for every penny and the Utah legislature treats them like they don't deserve it.

A recent report by the Utah Foundation shows how dramatically our funding effort has decreased over the last 10 years. Basically, if we had at least kept up our funding effort, we would have $600,000,000 MORE dollars than we do now, or roughly $1,000,000 PER school. That's a lot of computers, teachers, books, etc. etc. etc. (See Paradox Lost: Utah's Public Education Funding Effort No Longer Surpasses the Nation)

So, when it comes to charter schools, I respectfully disagree. The cure to Utah's education problem does not lie within charter schools. The cure to Utah's education problem lies within fully funding it.

Monday, August 21, 2006

It's All About Family Values

Utah likes to talk a lot about “Family Values” – Utah’s strong commitment to family and children is a major reason that we returned to Utah and why we live in Cedar City, because it is a great place to raise kids.

The Hollingshead Family, 2006
In all things that affect Utah's families, we should be setting the standard for the rest of the nation to follow. We should always do everything we can to help Utah families to be successful.

First of all, I believe we can fully fund education and give teachers what they need to be successful. I also believe we can do it without undue tax burdens. We can give our schools the resources they require without raising taxes. It’s just a matter of choices & priorities coupled with dedication to get it done. If elected to the Utah Senate, I pledge to make public schools the the very best choice for our children, and I promise to do it without undue tax burdens. As a state that values its children, we should be at the top of the list, not at the bottom. Investing in our children is a FAMILY VALUE.

I believe that every person in the state of Utah should have access to basic quality health services at a cost they can afford. A growing number of children in Utah do not get the health care they need because their families do not have insurance. As a state that values its children, we can and we should do better. Affordable health care is not a luxury. Making sure that kids and families get the health services they need is a FAMILY VALUE.

I believe that Utah families deserve a break! The average Utah family will spend $528 on school supplies this year. This is in addition to the many other fees associated with sending a child back to school. To help ease this burden, I support a tax cut like the back-to-school sales tax holiday. A ‘Back-to-School’ sales tax holiday puts real money back into the pockets of Utah families who already contribute so much to Utah’s growing economy.

I support removing the remaining portion of the state sales tax on food. If the sales tax on food were removed, food products would be less expensive and easier to purchase. This means parents would have an easier time feeding their kids. It means that people on a fixed or limited income would be able to stretch their dollars further at the grocery store. In short, it would mean that fewer people in the state of Utah would go without enough to eat-and that is a cause we can all rally behind.

Helping Utah families by providing them with common sense tax breaks - that's a FAMILY VALUE!

The families who live in Senate District 28 have a community spirit that is second to none. Our area is brimming with good families who believe in a vision for Utah, and people like you who believe they can make, and are making, a difference.

I believe in UTAH FAMILIES. As your Senator, I will work hard to represent the values and issues that are most important to you, and I will always fight for YOUR family. I do not subscribe to "Petty Partisan Politics" nor do I believe that decisions affecting Southern Utah and our rural communities should be dictated by Wasatch Front politicians. As your Senator, I will listen to your ideas and fight hard to make sure that your voice is heard. I am inspired by what you do, I am energized by what you have to say, and am looking forward to what we can do together for Utah.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Rob Miller for Davis County Commissioner

I don't live in Davis County. I only know a few people who DO live in Davis County. My uncle lives there. And a guy I went to college with a million years ago, I think his parents still live there. There may be others, but the sum total of people I know in Davis County doesn't add up to much. But still, I want to tell them, and everyone in Davis County, that they need to support Rob Miller for County Commissioner.

I met Rob through my association with the Utah Democratic Party. Rob was also very instrumental in getting me to just go for it and run for the Utah Senate. At first he told me it was "OK" to be the sacrificial name on the ballot - he told me that it was OK if I didn't do anything but just put my name out there. However, once I decided to GO, and run a real campaign for senate seat 28, Rob has been one of my biggest cheerleaders. Recently, Rob shared his thoughts on being an LDS Democrat. I felt inspired to weigh in on the subject and shared some of those thoughts right here on this blog.

There are many reasons that I think Rob Miller will make a great county commissioner. First of all, he is just an all around nice guy... and niceness DOES COUNT in politics. Second of all, Rob is approachable - you will never see Rob Miller hide behind titles or refuse to talk to his constituents. He will always be available and willing to to talk to anybody who has a question or concern. Rob stands up for people! Third, and most important, Rob has a good plan for Davis County! His platform is about Davis County families, and what it means to have ethical government. I believe Rob will follow through with every single thing that he says he will do if elected as a Davis County Commissioner. Rob comes from a long line of public service, and Davis County will be lucky to have him. We need people like Rob Miller serving in Utah government!

Thank you, Rob, for putting yourself out there and for getting the rest of us to follow your lead. I wish you much success in the coming months.

My very best regards,

Emily Bingham Hollingshead
Candidate for Utah Senate District 28

Monday, August 07, 2006

Iron County Tax Increase - Not adding up

UPDATE: I have had several people contact me, asking if I am against the Lake Powell Pipeline. I need to clarify that while I am not inherently *against* the pipeline, I would like to learn more about the proposed plan and gain a better understanding of how this is all going to work. I am a proponent of smart growth, so long as the environment is considered and we are looking to the future... that is, every single thing that we do in government must be done with future generations in mind. We absolutely must consider how it will impact our children and our children's children, the air that they breath and the land on which they will live.

The post that follows really is more directed to my opponent who seems to think that as an elected senator, he could have stopped this tax increase from happening... except that he is a county commissioner who appointed the board who levied the tax in the first place. I'm curious how that all would have worked out.


If you live in Iron County and haven't heard about the recent 1300% water district / property tax hike and the surrounding uproar, you are probably living under a rock, and not in Iron County.

It goes something like this: Last year, the water conservancy district charged a .000094 tax rate. So on a $200,000 property with a 45-percent exclusion, taxpayers paid $10.34 to the district.

After Senate Bill 111 passed in March, the water district can charge a rate of .001. So on the same $200,000 property, homeowners will pay $110. By the way, Sen. Tom Hatch sponsored the bill and it passed 26 /3 - the 3 representatives not present on voting day include Southern Utah Sens. Hatch and Hickman. (I thought that was an interesting sidebar, just a little food for thought.)

So regarding this 1300% tax increase - the community is outraged, as well it should be. Many Iron County residents say this is called "taxation without representation" and many are wondering why a water board, appointed by our county commissioners, has the authority to tax residents in the first place?

An Interesting Twist

In the midst of all the hullabaloo, my Republican opponent has told people that if elected to the Utah Senate, he will reign in the water board, and make certain that citizens don't get these crazy tax hikes.

I think that's a great campaign promise. People will probably listen to him and they will probably like that. Gosh, I would like to say the same thing... so I'll say it now "if elected to the Utah Senate, I promise to reign in the water board and make sure that you, Joe Taxpayer, don't have to be subjected to crazy tax hikes."

However, as great of a campaign promise that it is, I am still wondering where Mr. Commissioner was when the tax hike came down in the first place?

From my research, the Central Iron County Water Conservancy District has been talking about a huge tax levy since its budget hearing in December 2005. Where was the commissioners' outrage then? You would think that at least a County Commissioner should have known what was coming down the pike. And as outraged as he said he is, he should have been yelling his head off about it. Instead, he gives the impression that he was just as shocked as everyone else... even IF it was his buddy Tom Hatch who wrote the bill that allowed for the tax increase in the first place. He really didn't know this was going to happen? I have a hard time believing that.

I'm not a water expert and I don't have all of the information YET about how this all works. However, it seems to me an idle campaign promise to say that you can't "reign in the water district" until you're the senator...why don't you have this power already when you are a part of the commission that appoints the members to the board? And so, while it is frustrating that the Central Iron County Water Conservancy District can impose taxes on Iron County residents without our input, it is even more difficult to understand why the County Commissioners didn't do something about it when it first hit the fan.

There will be a lot of opinions on this subject in the coming weeks and I promise I will be watching this issue like a hawk. I also would like to hear someone's opinion on why the County Commissioners AND the Water District didn't think it was necessary to do a better job in preparing us for this huge blow.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

That darned abortion question

In my campaign travels I have had some good people ask me about my position on abortion. I hate the question because as a democrat, I am labled as pro-something-or-other without a lot of opportunity to explain my position. I thought I would post my feelings on it here. This appeared at OneUtah.org approximately 2 weeks ago. I am reposting it here for your reading pleasure. ;-) And I've updated it just a bit for clarity.


I wish we could move beyond the abortion discussion, because it makes life tough for LDS democrats like myself who have a different point of view.

Abortion is always a tragic choice, resulting from some kind of breakdown… whether it be breakdown in equipment or education. Trouble is we’re having the wrong discussion about abortion. The conservatives scream “End all abortions!” and yet the real way to end abortion is to end the number of unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Every pregnancy should be a wanted pregnancy. But we have inconsistent ideas when it comes to how we’re going to help those kids AND their moms get a fair chance in life.

In a community like Utah it is sometimes hard for good LDS people to understand that in some places in the world, women don’t have the support that they need to be successful mothers. We have the LDS Relief Society and extended family to buoy us up. Many many many women in this country don’t have such support. And so, when Democrats champion things like Head Start, All Day Kindergarten, and WIC, we are sometimes met with incredible opposition, with the critics yelling about “social programs.” So which way should it be? For me, I say we take care of the children and mothers and help them to be successful. I say let’s do an even better job of educating about birth control and encouraging abstinence when possible.

I’m afraid that the staunchest of conservatives want to have it both ways - no abortion and no social education. To me, it’s a no brainer. If you want to end the whole abortion problem in this country, then we must work harder at educating women and assisting women, who carry both the burden of the choice and the responsibility of the child. I agree that abortion is a poor excuse for birth control, but this is also a result of lack of education. We also need to really start talking about making adoption tax credits *permanent* and other ways we can help a mom through an unwanted pregnancy so that she can really choose NOT giving up on life.

As for the discussion about the Democratic platform and their commitment to a woman’s choice, I agree that there needs to be a bigger umbrella on this issue. That is why I like the "Democrats for Life" plan to reduce the number of abortions in America within 10 years. I may disagree with them on some other issues, but this plan is a winner. On the flip side, the Republicans have yelled and yelled about abortion, but abortion is still legal in this country. Finally, I think it would be wonderful if we could *all* see the sanctity of life *across the board.* Pro-life means a million things to me… life without poverty, life without hunger, and the list goes on.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

July 24 - Pioneer Day Photos

Sorry to all who have asked to see the July 24 photos -- I have had too much going on in the past week to get this done! The campaign is in full swing! Enjoy!

Wayne & Katie Holland sport their Matheson Tshirts - it was so nice of them to come and support Iron County Democrats!