Political Aftershocks From Voucher Vote Continuing in Utah
Even though Utah’s new voucher law flopped with state voters last month, the fallout is just beginning. Hard feelings over the referendum will likely complicate coming legislative skirmishes about money—and might even affect the makeup of the state board of education.
Voters in the Nov. 6 election decisively repealed the law, enacted by the legislature earlier this year, which sought to create the nation’s first universal voucher program. It would have given families statewide up to $3,000 a year toward private school tuition. ("Utah's Vote Raises Bar on Choice," Nov. 14, 2007.)
Left on the table is $9 million in the state’s fiscal 2008 budget that legislators set aside to help implement the program.
Teachers’ unions, which played a big part in the repeal campaign, would like it to go to public schools, but key legislators have told state media outlets that transportation is a big need, too.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. will have a say but hasn’t decided where he thinks the leftover money should go, said Lisa Roskelley, a spokeswoman for the Republican governor. She said his fiscal 2009 budget would be unveiled in the next couple of weeks, and that he would address what to do with the leftover $9 million then.
He also hasn’t decided where he stands on another post-referendum question: whether to expand the 15-member nonpartisan, elected state school board into a 29-member board elected on a partisan basis.
State board member Kim Burningham predicted that legislators might seek changes to the board, or to public school funding, in response to many board members’ opposition to the voucher law.
“We defied them,” Mr. Burningham said in an interview last month. He was the president of the board, but stepped aside as its leader after the voucher election. State Rep. Greg Hughes, a Republican, told The Salt Lake Tribune after the election that legislators have talked about governance changes for years, and that the proposals being mulled were not retribution.
“I’m afraid I’m walking into a session where every time I disagree, someone would look to exploit that for political gain by saying it’s retribution,” he said.
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