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Utah House passes bill for school vouchers and teacher raises; bill moves to Senate

Jan 20, 2023, 1:13 PM | Updated: 1:58 pm

Rep. Candice Pierucci, R- Herriman, speaks about her bill during a House Education Committee hearin...

Rep. Candice Pierucci, R- Herriman, speaks about her bill during a House Education Committee hearing on HB215 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. The bill would create the Utah Fits All Scholarships, which would link a teacher salary increase to a “school choice” program. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A divisive bill that would give Utah teachers a raise and allow families to apply for education vouchers for students has passed the Utah House 54-20 and now moves to the Senate.

HB215, sponsored by Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Riverton, would give teachers about a $6,000 raise. Pierucci explained during Thursday’s House Education Committee hearing that about $4,200 of that would come in the form of a salary increase, and around $1,800 in benefits.

The vouchers would be part of a Utah Fits All Scholarship Program, where a parent or guardian could apply for an $8,000 scholarship for their child to cover things like textbooks, education software or private school tuition.

The Deseret News reported that some people who testified in favor of the bill said the scholarships would enable them to find resources outside the public school system to better meet their children’s needs.

Others said there would be no accountability for the $42.5 million appropriation, which could serve about 5,000 students.

The Utah Education Association said it opposes HB215, saying the two parts of the bill should be separated and debated on their own merits.

“The UEA has a long-standing position that any voucher or tuition tax credit, slash tax scholarship plan under which private education is subsidized with public tax dollars could weaken the public school system,” said UEA President Renée Pinkney.

Pinkney told KSL NewsRadio’s Inside Sources that vouchers take limited funding away from public schools and give it to private schools.

“And instead, we must invest in our Utah public schools that 90% of students attend,” she said. “So, what we’re being asked to do is compromise our values for an increase in teacher compensation.”

During Friday’s debate on the House floor, Pierucci introduced a substitution that caps the amount of scholarship funding.

Other substitutes, including one that would have split the teacher raises and school voucher portions of the bill into separate pieces of legislation, failed.

Last year, Gov. Spencer Cox said he would veto a school voucher bill if it made its way to his desk because Utah’s schools are underfunded.

“You can’t take money that could go to our schools and allow it to go to private schools when you’re not fully funding the education system in our state,” Cox said during his PBS Utah news conference.

Cox’s 2022 threat of a veto would’ve only applied if that bill passed without a vetoproof majority — meaning 50 or more representatives voted for the bill. This year’s bill passed the House with a vetoproof majority of 54-20.

Gov. Cox says he would veto ‘Hope Scholarship’ school voucher bill

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Utah House passes bill for school vouchers and teacher raises; bill moves to Senate