POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Utah State Board of Education calls special vote on school choice bill

Jan 22, 2023, 9:51 AM | Updated: 10:31 am

The bill that would give parents money for private school is quickly moving through the Utah Legisl...

Members of the public line up for comment during a House Education Committee hearing on HB215 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. The bill would create the Utah Fits All Scholarships, which would link a teacher salary increase to a “school choice” program. (Deseret News)

(Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Board of Education has called a special meeting for Monday, Jan. 23 at 7 a.m. to vote on whether to support a bill that would create a school choice scholarship, also being called a school voucher, and increase teacher salaries.

Two people familiar with board make up tell KSL NewsRadio they believe the votes are there to oppose it, though they were not speaking on behalf of the board.

“It’s an unscheduled meeting,” Democratic Utah State Board of Education Member Carol Lear told KSL NewsRadio. “I think it is in response to the board wanting to be on the record before the Senate votes.”

Utah’s Senate Education Committee is slated to hear H.B. 215 at 2 p.m. Monday.

The board vote

Lear said she can’t be certain until the vote happens, but believes a majority of the 15 member board will vote in opposition. Another source close to the board who spoke to KSL NewsRadio anonymously, agreed.

“We need to have eight [votes]…and I think we will have a majority who oppose it,” Lear said.

“I think that if the board as whole votes to oppose it signals to the legislature, whether it makes a difference or not, that the public education oversight body does not support sending public money to private schools, religious schools, [and] schools that don’t have the same oversight that public schools do.”

Lear also said those who pushed for the chairs to call this special meeting wanted to take this vote to signal to their education partners that they stand with them in opposition.

“[We want to tell] the local Schools Boards Association, PTA, UEA, all of the school districts, Superintendents that we stand with you. This will not be a good thing for local schools.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Candice Pieurcci, R-Herriman, posted a lengthy Twitter thread Saturday arguing her views of the benefits of a scholarship program.

“[It] gives $6,000 directly to teachers in a compensation increase 2. Empowers parents with more options for their child’s educational experience by creating the Utah Fits All Scholarship Program. This program is prioritized for students based on need,” she wrote.

Objections to the bill

Lear had several objections to the plan.

“The basic consistent objection is private schools will receive public money that should go to public schools,” she said. “That’s my biggest umbrella objection. I [also] don’t like that the teacher salary increase is just being shamelessly connected to the voucher.”

Lear also objected to the process the legislature used to pass it by suspending the rules. She also argues that according to the bill, it gives the Board “multiple complicated financial responsibilities” of managing and overseeing the scholarship program “with no discussion, zero discussion with USBE,” she said.

“It could be the board is being set up to crash and burn in terms of oversight,” she said.

She also argued the bill allows for discrimination when determining who is prioritized to receive a scholarship.

“The only non-discrimination measure in [the bill] only prohibits discrimination based on race, color, and national origin,” she said.

“They can discriminate against kids with disabilities, poor kids, based on gender, they could theoretically take all boys and no girls,” she said. “They can discriminate against kids who have minor disciplinary problems and kids who have none at all.”

The USBE meeting agenda lists one action item for Monday’s meeting.

“The Board will consider its support of legislation or recommendations to bill sponsors for amendments.”

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Utah State Board of Education calls special vote on school choice bill