Vouchers, School Funding Highlights of Utah Session
The following offers highlights of the recent legislative session. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2005 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
Lawmakers approved a 20 percent increase in funding over current levels for Utah’s K-12 schools in the legislative session that concluded Feb. 28, but the record-high budget for education was overshadowed in large part by heated debate over measures involving vouchers and restrictions on student clubs.
Of the $490 million in new education funding, a relatively small amount—$12.4 million—is earmarked for the statewide voucher plan. Among the major expenditures in the $2.5 billion education budget for fiscal 2008 are nearly $73 million for enrollment growth, $68.7 million to increase teacher salaries, $33 million for one-time teacher bonuses, and $88 million to raise the base per-pupil payment to $2,514, up $97 per pupil.
Utah became the first state to enact a tuition-voucher plan that is open to all students statewide not already enrolled in private schools. Its program, set to begin next fall, offers vouchers ranging from $500 to $3,000 a year, based on family income, to any public school student who wants to attend a private school. ("Utah’s Broad Voucher Program Could Face Challenge," Feb. 21, 2007.)
But at least one effort is under way to stall implementation. Earlier this month, a group called Utahns for Public Schools launched a campaign to collect the more than 90,000 signatures needed to pursue a ballot referendum to repeal the new law. The group has until mid-April to do so. If it is successful, the measure will be on the November ballot.
Utah also will become the first state to require parental permission for students to participate in school-sponsored clubs and other organizations under a measure that goes into effect for the 2007-08 school year. The bill has yet to be signed by Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. Opponents said it could unfairly prevent students from joining gay-straight clubs in schools, for example. ("Utah Poised for Parental Sign-Off on Club Activities," March 7, 2007.)
Vol. 26, Issue 27, Page 19