EDUCATION

Another battle over school vouchers? One lawmaker plans to propose voucher bill he calls ‘different’ than other attempts

Feb 2, 2022, 8:15 PM | Updated: Feb 15, 2022, 11:14 am
utah state capitol first responders mental health...
(File photo: The reflecting pool at the Utah State Capitol. Photo: Paul Nelson)
(File photo: The reflecting pool at the Utah State Capitol. Photo: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY — Could we see another political battle over school vouchers?  One lawmaker says he intends to bring the voucher discussion to Capitol Hill, but he believes the idea won’t be as controversial as it was last time.

School vouchers

Back in 2007, then-governor Jon Huntsman Jr. called for a special election on a school voucher referendum. That led to months of political ads both for and against the vouchers.  The Deseret News reports that voucher program would have let families get between $500 and $3,000 to pay for tuition at private schools.  Eventually, the voters shot the initiative down.

However, District 9 Senator Kirk Cullimore believes things could be different, this year.  He says he’s still drafting a bill that could get a lot more support during the 2022 legislative session.

“I think a number of factors have changed things over the past couple of years,” Cullimore says.  “I think the way this bill is being drawn up is a little bit different than some school choice bills in the past.”

Taking money from public schools

One of the biggest criticisms about vouchers 15 years ago was that it would take money from public schools. It would then be sent to private institutions.  However, Cullimore says the passage of Amendment G in 2020 made it possible for income tax revenue to be used for things other than public education.  He says his bill would not take money from the state’s education fund, therefore, public schools wouldn’t get less money.

Cullimore believes families would be more comfortable with vouchers as long as the education fund isn’t impacted. And he says a recent Dan Jones and Associates poll proves that.

“It seems like the public opinion on this has shifted [with] 69 percent of people support an option like this,” Cullimore said.

If the bill were to pass, lower-income families would be eligible for more funding per child than higher-income families.  He says 25 percent of the fund would be reserved for families in the lowest income threshold.

“The program that we’re trying to establish will have an emphasis on lower-income families to help them potentially explore other options that have probably been outside of their means or their availability,” he said.

In 2007, groups like the NAACP and the Utah Education Association opposed the voucher initiative. They said public money shouldn’t go to private schools.  Cullimore says he’s working with the UEA to ensure public schools aren’t accidentally impacted.

He said, “We’re taking their feedback and we’re trying to continue to work on this bill based on that feedback, which is why it hasn’t been released, yet.”

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Another battle over school vouchers? One lawmaker plans to propose voucher bill he calls ‘different’ than other attempts