POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

School choice and teacher salary among the many bills being discussed

Jan 18, 2023, 9:00 PM | Updated: Jan 19, 2023, 8:10 am

An increase in teacher salaries, combined with the concept of "school choice" are being discussed a...

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, gives his speech during the opening day of the Utah Legislature's 2023 session at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023.

SALT LAKE CITY — An increase in teacher salaries, combined with the concept of “school choice” are being discussed at the 2023 Utah Legislative Session.

Effectively, the school choice concept gives parents a backpack of funding to be used wherever their children attend school.

Sen. Kirk Cullimore (R-Sandy) joined KSL at Night hosts Derek Brown and Leah Murray on Tuesday night to discuss the bill.

Brown asked, “Help us understand kind of the thinking behind this bill?”

“I mean there’s been discussions like this in Utah for many years,” he said. “But with COVID hitting, it kind of caused a lot of parents and families to really look at the education options for their kids.”

Cullimore said efforts on the bill started last year. However, Gov. Spencer Cox was not on board with it.

“But (he) did indicate that he is in favor of school choice,” Cullimore said of the governor’s response in 2022. “But wanted to make sure the teachers got paid first.”

Money to follow a school choice

Cullimore says the Utah Constitution recognizes parents and families are the main people responsible for a child’s education.

“And so, this bill recognizes that and says ‘you know what, we’re going to allow money to follow a parent’s education choice for their child,'” he said.

Even still, Cullimore acknowledges that teachers play a vital role in that process.

“And so, we want to make sure that we got an appropriation directly to the teachers that would actually help them and benefit their pocketbooks,” he said. 

Cullimore says it’s been at least 15 years since the legislature did a direct appropriation to the salary of teachers. He says it was in the area of $4,000.

“And so, what we’re looking to do is basically double that,” he said. 

He says that the total appropriation will include compensation, including retirement benefits. He says that it should result in a $4,000 take-home amount for teachers. 

How to ensure accountability?

For Murray, one of the issues around “school choice” is how lawmakers ensure accountability that the money is being used correctly?

Cullimore says the legislators are discussing a couple of different items to address accountability. One of those includes ensuring fraud isn’t taking place.

“And so, this bill does create a management organization,” he said. “That will distribute the scholarships and how that will happen is if it’s an approved expenditure.”

He says that if is for a private school or an online educator or another expense that’s previously been approved, then the managing organization will cut the check directly to that organization.

“And so at least on the financial side, I think we’ve pretty well put up a lot of safeguards to ensure that the money is appropriately spent,” Cullimore said. 

 

KSL at Night can be heard weeknights from 7 to 9 p.m.

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School choice and teacher salary among the many bills being discussed