Instead of whining about how charter schools take money from traditional public schools, how about taking a close look at what they're doing? The original intent—we know, the Legislature tends to screw that up—was for charters to act as incubators of innovation. Free from some of the bureaucratic nonsense, charters were expected to try new ideas within the boundaries of traditional curriculum. A recent report from U.S. News & World Report placed six Utah charter schools in the top 10 best high schools in the state. The winners are indeed innovators. But here is the rest of the story: In 1988, Al Shanker, then president of the American Federation of Teachers, saw teachers being given "the opportunity to draw upon their expertise to create high-performing educational laboratories from which the traditional public schools could learn," according to a New York Times opinion piece. "Over time, however, charter schools morphed into a very different animal as conservatives, allied with some social-justice-minded liberals, began to promote charters as part of a more open marketplace." The challenge in Utah is to separate the good from the political.
So Long, Coal!
Rio Tinto Kennecott took a big step toward cleaning the air along the Wasatch Front by closing its coal-fired Utah Power Plant, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. The company says it is making a commitment to—and investment in—renewable energy. It's been a long time coming, and certainly this isn't the end. The Utah Division of Air Quality has in the past dubbed Kennecott as "the largest single source of air pollution along the Wasatch Front, emitting 10 times more pollution overall than the next-largest industrial source, the Chevron refinery." That's more than coal—it's toxic heavy metals like lead and zinc. So, let's not stop with coal, a huge global warming culprit, but give the company props for starting somewhere.
In Utah, you can never let your guard down. Environmentalists thought they'd won a hard-fought legal battle to preserve the Burr Trail. But the BLM gave Garfield County the go-ahead to pave 7.5 miles of the 67-mile trail. About 50 miles are already paved. The act was both sudden and shocking. Environmentalists have already filed suit in federal court because of the lack of any assessment, the Trib said. In a foreseeable response, Utah officials think it's just dandy because it will save idiot drivers from automobile maintenance after going into the backcountry and getting stuck. And oh yeah, it's good for rural "morale," Utah's public lands policy director says. Yes, Utah is indeed ruled by its rural roots.