The issue of subsidizing private education has been a persistent issue in Utah politics. Most famously, public funding of private schools came to a head in 2007, when the legislature narrowly passed legislation that created school vouchers for some kids to attend private school—paid for by public school funds. A contentious and heated citizen initiative battle began, with Utah families eventually voting by 2 to 1 to overturn the law. Needless to say, public funding of private education has been a sensitive topic ever since.
But it appears the memory of the overwhelming rejection by the public seven years ago is starting to fade, and Representative David Lifferth (Republican – Eagle Mountain) is proposing a bill that would transfer public funds into private education with HB 77 – Tax Credit for Home-Schooling Parent.
To be sure, the language, mechanisms, costs, and possible effects of HB 77 are quite different from school vouchers, but the underling concept would be the same: public dollars being spent towards private education.
The bill title itself makes the intent clear, Lifferth wishes to give a $500 tax credit for each child a parent chooses to home school. The tax credit esitself would be applied when citizens are submitting their annual income tax returns. Because 100 percent of the state’s income tax go towards public schools, a $500 deduction would have a direct negative impact on public education funding.
It can be argued that the small tax credit would be used for items such as school supplies, but that would not detract from the fact that the state, under Lifferth’s policy, would be taking money out of neighborhood public schools and sending it to parents who have chosen to voluntarily remove their children from the public education system.
One argument used during the voucher debate was that it would save the state money in education, as it would remove students from the public school system. It has also been argued that private and home schooled parents are charged twice for their child’s education as their taxes still go towards public education. It is possible that Lifferth will resurrect these arguments when defending HB 77.
Though parents are free to home school their children, opponents to vouchers argued that the focus should be placed on putting money into the public education system, not supporting private systems which parents voluntarily choose to have their kids participate in. Opponents of vouchers also pointed out that while parents with kids in private or home schools are still paying taxes towards public education, so do taxpayers without children—the idea being that it is in everyone’s best interest to have a strong public education system because the more educated the future workforce is, the greater number of jobs come into the state.
Lifferth has said in the past that he supports choice in education, and is a strong supporter of school vouchers. In 2007, when voters overturned school vouchers, they did so by nearly a two-to-one margin. It is doubtful that the citizens position on a major issue such as vouchers has changed, though it is possible that a smaller, more contained tax credit is more tolerable. None the less, it would enforce a policy similar to one that voters overwhelmingly rejected.
Utah, it would seem, is not interested in subsidizing private education with public dollars. We’ll have further updates on this bill as arguments are made.
To contact Representative Lifferth, click here or call 801-358-9124.
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker