Group sues over Utah Fits All scholarship program

May 29, 2024, 9:48 AM | Updated: 5:30 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Education Association, a group of parents and an elected member of the Utah State Board of Education are suing over the Utah Fits All scholarship program.

The Utah Fits All Scholarship — which critics call a school voucher program — allows families of Utah’s K-12 students to receive up to $8,000 for certain educational expenses, including private school tuition.

The lawsuit argues that the law violates Utah’s constitutionally protected right to a free education.

“It diverts income tax revenues to fund private schools that are (1) not free, (2) not open to all students, and (3) not controlled and supervised by the State Board of Education,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit was filed by the Utah Education Association, Kevin Labresh and Terra Cooper on behalf of their children, Amy Barton, and Carol Lear — an elected member of the State Board of Education.

“The lawsuit is based on the grounds that the Utah Fits All voucher program does not fit all and, in fact, hurts public school students and educators,” said Renée Pinkney, UEA President. “It violates Utah’s constitution, which clearly states that education should be free and open to all, and specifically delegates general control and supervision by the Utah State Board of Education, which protects the use of public funds for public education.”

The group is asking a judge to declare the program unconstitutional and permanently stop the law from being implemented.

Supporters of the voucher program have defended it, arguing that the program gives students a choice in education. The scholarships are currently being allocated to 10,000 Utah students, based first on financial need. ACE Scholarships administers the program and said more than 27,000 students have applied.

State leaders respond

Senate President Stuart Adams, R–Kaysville, and the law’s sponsors, Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R–Draper, and Rep. Candice Pierucci, R–Herriman, each responded to the lawsuit arguing that Utah’s public education system has seen historic funding increasing by $2.5 billion since 2014, they said. They also argued that the scholarship is needed because parents need more options for their kids and this provides a way for students to thrive.

“The Utah Fits All Scholarship expands education opportunities to include additional educational paths for parents to use their taxpayer money to select what is best for their kids,” Adams said. “Supporting this scholarship means advocating for a future where educational choice is a right, not a privilege.”

Cullimore said he was disappointed by the lawsuit.

“It is disappointing that the UEA is putting politics above meeting students’ and teachers’ needs. I’m confident in the constitutionality of this program, as it does not take away money from public education and ensures Utah schools continue to receive the same funding per student. By having a scholarship program, we’re investing in the future of every child to reach their full potential, regardless of their circumstances. Let’s focus on the real impact this scholarship can have on the lives of our children instead of political differences,” he said.

Pieurcci said she stands by the program because it was designed so every student has opportunities to learn in a way that makes sense for them, regardless of zip code, wealth and abilities.

“Every parent knows that when it comes to education, one size does not fit all,” she said. “The legislature has made historic investments into Utah’s K-12 education system and will continue to do so. The union’s scarcity mentality, and unwillingness to prioritize Utah children, shows just how out of touch they are with Utah parents and students.”

Has the money gone out?

According to the Utah Fits All program, “scholarship accounts will be funded no later than Aug. 7, 2024. Approved expenses made after July 1 qualify for reimbursement.”

UEA’s lawyers did not say whether they plan to file a temporary restraining order which would temporarily stop the law from being implemented while it’s sorted out in the courts.

In total, the program gives private schools $82.5 million in public funds.

Utah families receive millions of tax dollars for ‘Utah Fits All’ scholarship. Education opportunity or taxpayer subsidy?

The full lawsuit can be seen here.

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Group sues over Utah Fits All scholarship program