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Rolly: The two faces of Aaron Osmond

Published July 27, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Less than four months before Sen. Aaron Osmond suggested in a blog on the state Senate Site that Utah should do away with compulsory education, he told a group of policy makers and elected officials at a luncheon sponsored by the Utah Foundation that the Legislature should consider raising taxes to fund public education.

"Does the Legislature have the political will to increase tax revenue for public education?" the South Jordan Republican asked. "I don't know. But this is one legislator who believes the time has come for us to find a new method to generate new money for public education."

That declaration for boosting public education came in late March.

In mid July, Osmond's tune was not so sunny toward public education.

"In a country founded on the principles of personal freedom and unalienable rights, no parent should be forced by the government to send their child to school under the threat of fines and jail time," he wrote on the Senate blog.

Perhaps those two positions could be compatible, in a tortured sort of way.

Raise taxes to provide more money for education, but give kids a free pass if they don't want to go to school. Hey, that means even more money for the kids that stay.

But Osmond appears to be alternately licking the boots of two constituencies that are on opposite sides of most issues involving public education.

The idea of raising taxes for education appeals to the Utah Education Association and other organizations that support educators in the public schools. The idea of ending compulsory education under the guise of liberty appeals to groups that traditionally oppose public teacher organizations and push instead for more private sector solutions, such as tax-funded vouchers for private school tuition and home schooling.

In fact, as I mentioned in my column last Monday, Osmond co-authored an essay with Oak Norton, a longtime advocate of the aforementioned private sector solutions, making a case for ending compulsory education that is nearly identical to Osmond's blog.

Last year, Osmond sponsored a bill to expand early-education funding for at-risk children.

Now he wants to let them skip school.

Call it the easy-in, easy out approach.

Osmond, I suspect, may have higher political ambitions than just serving in the Legislature. So maybe he's trying to please everybody. Historically, politicians who do that end up pleasing nobody.

Public education representatives I have talked with are puzzled by Osmond's flirtation with the anti-public education crowd.

When Osmond first entered the Legislature, replacing former Eagle Forum puppet Chris Buttars, who resigned in the middle of his third term once he qualified for lifetime state health insurance, he seemed eager to consider the views of public educators, who see improving education by providing more resources within the existing public institution, rather than facilitating ways to leave public education.

Then Osmond sided with the right-wingers who think the Common Core standards adopted by dozens of states are a socialist plot. He took Eagle Forum president Gayle Ruzicka's side when she publicly pummeled Bingham High School for putting on a play she had never seen and that had ended its run three months before she decided to complain about it.

Ruzicka, as we all know, is a master grass-roots organizer who can make or break political careers by getting her supporters out to the neighborhood caucuses where the party convention delegates are chosen.

If, as I suspect, Osmond has his eye on higher office, he has decided his best bet is to triumph at the convention, where the extremists wield power. —