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Published in Print: March 31, 2004, as Gov. Walker Turns Down Voucher Bill

Gov. Walker Turns Down Voucher Bill

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Utah’s governor has vetoed legislation that would have created the nation’s second state voucher program for special education students.

In vetoing the measure March 23, Gov. Olene S. Walker, a Republican, said in a letter to members of the Senate and the House that it raised so many "constitutional questions [and] federal law compliance and funding issues that I cannot allow [it] to become law."

The proposed Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarships, named for a 5-year-old Utah resident with autism, could have provided more than $5,000 in public money per child for special education students to attend private and religious schools. ("Utah Passes Special Education Voucher Bill," March 17, 2004.)

Only Florida offers a similar program for children with disabilities.

Utah families of children with disabilities and disability- rights advocates were split over the $1.4 million program: Some touted the resources it would provide, while others worried it would sap money from public schools.

Gov. Walker did leave the $1.4 million authorized for the program, and asked the state school board to use the money to help meet the needs of students with disabilities. "This will accomplish the educational objectives of the bill for special-needs children," her letter said.

Political Fallout

In the letter, Gov. Walker said it appeared that using public school money for the voucher program would violate the Utah Constitution. She said the legislation also raised questions about whether parents who placed their children in private school using the vouchers would be protected by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Ms. Walker vetoed six of 391 bills March 3 and used her line-item veto on five budget items.

"We think she understood the implications that were far broader than the intent of the parents seeking the bill," said Donna J. Gleaves, the executive director of the Arc of Utah, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, based in Salt Lake City.

Some Utah lawmakers last week, though, were considering a possible veto override.

And other voucher supporters promised to lobby delegates to vote against the governor. In Utah, delegates determine which candidates go to the primary.

Ms. Walker, who stepped up from the lieutenant governorship when Gov. Michael O. Leavitt left to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year, hopes to be nominated by Republicans May 8 to run in the fall gubernatorial race.

Vol. 23, Issue 29, Page 20

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