In 2007, Utah became the first state in the nation to pass a state-wide school voucher program that would pull money out of public education and give it to a handful of kids going to private schools. The measure, sponsored by Representative (now Senator) Steve Urquhart (R) and Senator Curt Bramble (R), passed despite several polls showing the public was not in favor. What then followed was a long fight, as several thousand citizens signed a petition successfully putting a repeal of the legislation on the November 2007 ballot.
In the end, the majority of Utahns supported the repeal, and the law passed by the State Legislature was overturned. What many people don’t realize is that the Legislature has attempted, unsuccessfully, to pass a school voucher bill nearly every year since the 2007 fight. Most recently, the cause has been taken up by Senator Howard Stephenson (Republican, Draper), who last year tried to get school vouchers to pass by renaming the program “student scholarships.” The vast majority of legislators on Utah’s Capitol Hill have been unwilling to go against the people’s wishes, and the attempts have never made it through the body.
But it seems that a new, more incremental, approach is being taken this year, in the form of Senator Stephenson’s SB 110, School-Based Budgeting Amendments. It may not be school vouchers, but it’s a big step in that direction.
Under current law in Utah, school districts distribute money from the Minimum School Program funds to the schools in their districts based on which schools need help the most, which have lagging programs, and which are not meeting the minimum level of standards set by the school district, school boards and the State Board of Education.
If SB 110 were to pass, 85% or more of the Minimum School Program funds would be given directly to the schools, rather than have it administered by school districts.
Proponents of the bill will no doubt argue that they think school districts have too much administrative waste, or that the individual schools should be able to decide for themselves where they want to put more money. Perhaps there’s some truth to the administrative waste in school districts, but such a complete and utterly drastic change should never be the solution to a minor problem. In reality, this would turn every individual school into it’s own fiefdom – creating their own HR and Curriculum departments that decide what children will be taught, rather than conforming to the standards used across the state.
The net effect of such an effort would be to dramatically shrink school districts, shifting all power to the individual schools and eliminating the desperately needed oversight that ensures minimum standards in education are being met.
Utah Political Capitol spoke with a school authority, who requested their name be withheld, who said, “This is like rolling back the clock to the late 1800’s, where each school decided what the most important things to learn were. There’s a reason we as a nation decided that schools need a central authority, it would be inevitable that some school would hire administrators who would teach incorrect curriculum. Without that oversight, parents would never know and the child’s future would be at risk.”
Shifting all power to the schools means that each school would be using their own textbooks and their own programs, and would advertise themselves to parents who wouldn’t really have any idea whether or not what was being taught was correct, accurate, or at a high enough standard that their child would still qualify to get into college.
Over the years, educators have expressed concern that education reforms in the state have been designed in theory (or in practice) to weaken public schools and, therefore, make alternatives such as vouchers more appealing to the public. UPC does not know if this is true, however we believe SB 110 would, over time, weaken our schools.
Utah is dead last in the nation in the amount of money we give to our neighborhood schools per pupil, but the answers to fixing education won’t come from a push for school vouchers. Parents should also know that if school vouchers were to ever pass the Utah Legislature again, the rules have been changed since 2007, and it is now much more difficult to place a citizen referendum on the ballot to overturn the legislature.
To contact Sen. Stephenson, Click Here or call 801-572-1038
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Great Bill 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 . -1 . -2 . -3 . -4 . -5 Poor Bill