EDUCATION

School voucher bill clears committee, moves to full Senate

Jan 23, 2023, 7:39 PM | Updated: 9:40 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A controversial bill that would help give students more opportunities to get an education outside of public schools was one step closer to becoming law Monday after it passed the Senate Education Committee.

HB215 would give teachers a pay raise, but it would also establish a scholarship fund that would provide $8,000 to students to fund other options for obtaining an education, like attending a private school or home schooling.

The bill passed through the House last week before going to a packed room for the Senate Education Committee. Supporters included parents, teachers and students who said the bill would allow parents to customize their child’s education to better fit their needs. They said it would help students who “fall through the cracks” of the public education system.

“A scholarship fund like this one would have been a life raft,” said Laura Feller speaking of her own experience with her children during the public comment period. “I know there are other families like mine who are desperate to help their children but lack the resources to do so.”

Several organizations have come out against the bill, including the Utah State Board of Education. The board held an emergency meeting Monday morning, where 10 members opposed the bill and five supported it.

Utah State Board of Education votes to oppose school voucher bill

Opponents have argued the public education system already offers plenty of options, including dual immersion programs, online programs and charter schools. Others — including teachers — have argued the scholarship fund would take money away from public education.

“Public education should be fully funded before we even begin to funnel tax dollars into the private sector,” said Julie Beane, a special education teacher in the Canyon School District. “This bill will further devastate money for our public schools, which are already stretched further than any other state in the union.”

According to the nonpartisan office of legislative research and general counsel, the bill would take the $42.5 million from income tax revenue. This revenue can be used to help fund public and higher education and to support children and people with disabilities.

“Parents want more choices. They want to match the education their child gets to the specific school,” said Royce Van Tassle, executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools.

Van Tassle said the association was neutral on HB215, but in favor of school choice.

“And I’m personally neutral on it. I think that the best school wins,” said Anthony Sudweeks, founder of charter school Wallace Stegner Academy. “If I was worrying about losing students, I would make sure that our schools were the best schools. I wouldn’t try to stop other schools from opening.”

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School voucher bill clears committee, moves to full Senate