Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Riverton, walks through the Senate with a smile after Thursday’s passage of the school voucher bill. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)
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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Senate has passed legislation that will provide $8,000 scholarships to eligible families for private schools and other private education options and give licensed educators a $6,000 pay raise $.
The Senate voted 20-8 on Thursday to approve the bill, which is now heading to the office of Governor Spencer Cox, who has said he will not veto the bill and is considering it now that it passed, communications director Jennifer Napier-Pearce said. .
The bill passed by a two-thirds margin in each legislative chamber, meaning it cannot be challenged in a referendum.
In a floor debate, Senate Majority Assistant Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Sandy, senate sponsor of HB215, said the vast majority of Utah school-aged children attend public schools and that the Utah Legislature will continue to support educators and public education. system.
“With nearly 97% of our school-aged children participating in public education in one way or another, I truly believe this is a good scholarship program that will serve children who need a unique, individualized education and that’s not really going to have a very strong or significant effect on the public education system,” he said.
Utah Senate Democrats, in a statement released after the vote, disagreed.
“As Democrats, we oppose all efforts to divert taxpayer dollars from our public school system, our educators, and our children. HB215 fails to support students and weakens public education by redirecting public funds to private institutions without any safeguards, protection against discrimination and transparency,” it said.
The statement went on to say that Senate Democrats were “extremely disappointed with the policy tactic of tying teacher salaries with vouchers — two issues that deserve separate consideration and meaningful input from taxpayers, educators and parents.” .
The bill creates the Utah Fits All Scholarship, which can then be used for education expenses such as curriculum, textbooks, education, software, tutoring services, school teacher salaries, etc. micro-schools and private school tuition fees. State funding for the program’s inaugural year is capped at $42 million, Cullimore said.
Cullimore says if the scholarship program is successful, the legislature should consider expanding the scholarship program.
“Any growth potential of this fund…isn’t really a substantial threat to public education,” he said.#utpol#arrangement
— Bridger Beal-Cvetko (@BealBridger) January 26, 2023
Under the bill, the Utah Legislature will allocate $196.9 million for the educator salary adjustment, which will be available to teachers licensed by the Utah State Board of Education or to other professionals licensed by the Division of Professional Licensing such as social workers, psychologists or audiologists.
“Over 95% of our children are still participating in public education and the Legislature must do what it can to continue supporting our teachers and supporting the education system. I anticipate that will be the case, as also shown the $200 million earmarked in this bill,” he said.
After the vote, Cullimore said he was “ecstatic” about the bill passing.
“To get this kind of support that we’ve gotten in both the House and the Senate, it’s really exciting.”
Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, who is a public school teacher, said the bill needs more accountability and transparency measures.
In the short term, Utah educators will benefit from the pay increase, she said, “but I think the long-term impacts on our education system are really alarming to me.”
A statement from the Utah Education Association, which opposed HB215 largely because it tied the voucher-type program to teacher raises, said it was “exploring all available options to undo this damaging legislation. jeopardizes the future of public education”.
It’s really exciting to get this kind of support that we’ve had in the House and in the Senate.
–Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Sandy
He noted a flurry of emails, calls and texts from educators and the public, but lawmakers “fast-tracked” the bill in less than two weeks.
“Clearly this is a well-coordinated effort that started before the session started,” he said.
“As the largest association of professional educators in Utah, our strength is in our members. Together we are powerful. United we are the strongest. priority.”
The bill also encountered opposition from the Utah State Board of Education, the Utah PTA, school superintendents, corporate administrators and school boards.
The Alliance for a Better Utah has been singled out in its reaction to the passing of HB215, sponsored by Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Riverton.
“Conservative lawmakers just robbed our neighborhood schools of $42 million. Private school vouchers have been and continue to be opposed by Utahns, but these lawmakers are instead pursuing a national agenda to ‘destroy public education. “As a result, our children, parents and teachers will suffer as a fundamental institution in our society is starved of much needed resources,” he said in a statement.
The alliance urged the governor to reconsider his support for HB215.
“Even with teacher increases, our public education system continues to be severely underfunded. We need to invest even more in our public schools and children’s futures, not divert taxpayer dollars to schools. private.”
HB215 represents a step change in Utah education policy in that it expands the use of public money for private education choices well beyond existing programs for families with children. disabled. The Utah Fits All Scholarship Program will serve nearly 5,000 students in its first year.
In 2007, 62% of Utah voters repealed a school voucher law enacted earlier that year. The multimillion-dollar political campaign pitted teachers’ unions nationwide against school choice advocates.
No universal choice legislation had been passed by the Legislature in subsequent years until lawmakers approved HB215.
Contributor: Kailey Gilbert
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