SLC high school teachers walkout to protest school voucher bill

Jan 25, 2023, 6:24 PM | Updated: 6:26 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Teachers at two Salt Lake City high schools walked out during their lunch breaks to protest a bill that combines pay raises with school vouchers.

State senators on Wednesday moved forward House Bill 215, setting it up for a final vote on Thursday that could send the legislation to the governor’s desk.

The bill would bump the pay of classroom teachers by $6,000 per year. It would also allocate $42 million to set up a scholarship program that would give $8,000 vouchers to about 5,000 students per year so they could attend a private school of their choice.

Rilee Pickle, a language arts teacher at West High, was among 20 teachers who walked out around noon. They rallied for about 10 minutes, chanting “public schools, public money” and “raises yes, vouchers no.”

“If we fund public schools with public money instead of putting public money into private schools, it would help my students afford things like books, state tests and have a better overall experience,” Pickle said.

About 30 teachers at East High School also walked out on their lunch breaks.

Sen. Kirk Cullimore, the majority assistant whip who’s the floor sponsor, said the bill is in no way “an indictment on public education.”

“I think there’s widespread support throughout the state for education dollars to follow the kids and their needs,” he said.

Cullimore stressed that the funding does not pull from the public education budget. He also expects many of the scholarship recipients to be students who are already homeschooled or in private schools.

“I think the effect on public education is going to be close to nil,” Cullimore said. “It won’t even be felt by all of public education. What will be felt is the salary increase and the additional support we intend to give to public education this year.”

The state teachers union and the state school board have come out against HB 215.

“Public schools are under attack! What do we do?” a teacher at East High School chanted on Wednesday.” Stand up, fight back!” the group responded.

Nicole Steffes, a teacher at East High, said the lack of accountability for private schools was her main concern.

“There isn’t any licensing requirements of educators,” Steffes said. “There’s no curriculum requirements, testing requirements. There’s none of the safeguards that are in place in a public school.”<

The bill is scheduled for a vote on Thursday. The full Senate convenes at 11 a.m.

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SLC high school teachers walkout to protest school voucher bill