Lawmakers say new school choice bill is not a ‘voucher bill,’ but UEA still doesn’t support it

Feb 7, 2022, 7:15 PM | Updated: 9:14 pm
A bill about food security caught the attention of Utahns during the second day of the 2023 legisla...
FILE - The Utah State Capitol is pictured on February 7, 2022 in Salt Lake City. (KSL NewsRadio)
(KSL NewsRadio)

UTAH STATE CAPITOL — Lawmakers and educators appear to be at odds, once again, about a school choice bill being proposed on the Capitol.  Legislators say this is different than the controversial school voucher bill of 2007, but the Utah Education Association doesn’t like this year’s bill any better.

Not a voucher bill

The supporters of HB 331 want to stress that it is not a “voucher” bill.  The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Candice Pierucci, says vouchers go directly from state coffers to private schools to cover tuition costs for low-income students.  However, Pierucci says her bill is a house scholarship program, which would allow parents to have more flexibility to decide what they pay for.

Pierucci said, “Parents can actually use the student funds for different expenses which include private school tuition, but it isn’t limited to that.”

For instance, Pierucci says parents could use the money for any transportation costs they would have to cover to get their kids to school.  Or homeschool pods can hire more teachers or enroll kids in specialized classes.

Private schools would have to meet certain standards before they could accept any of this money.  Plus, Pierucci says auditors would have to ensure all of the scholarship funding goes toward educational purposes.

She said, “The scholarship granting organization will be audited regularly, and randomly within it, accounts will be audited, as well.”

Opposition from the UEA

Pierucci says she understands the Utah Education Association will not like every aspect of HB 331. However, she intends to work with educators to include provisions that they’ll like.  UEA President Heidi Matthews says they appreciate the fact that lawmakers reached out to them for input, but the bill still allows public money to go toward private school tuition, which is something they will not support.

“[We] are fundamentally opposed to siphoning public dollars into private entities,” Matthews said.

Supporters of the bill say the money would not be taken out of the general education fund.  However, it would be taken from the state’s income tax revenue, which is where public education gets its funding.  Matthews believes all of that money should still go toward public education.

 “It does take away from the available funds that would go to public education,” she said.

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Lawmakers say new school choice bill is not a ‘voucher bill,’ but UEA still doesn’t support it