Local schools speak out on vouchers | ParkRecord.com

Local schools speak out on vouchers

Utah’s school voucher bill, recently passed by the Utah Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr., is not necessarily a done deal. Petitioners hope to collect enough signatures statewide to put the voucher program in the hands of voters in the Nov. 2008 election.

If the law stands, however, House Bill 148 would allow students enrolled full-time in a public school, and born after Sept. 1, 2001, to apply for vouchers to be applied to tuition in a private school that qualifies. Voucher amounts range from $500 to $3,000 per year, based on financial need and family size. Public schools would be reimbursed by the state for the voucher students who leave public education (minus the amount of the voucher).

Patty Murphy, the Park City School District business administrator, said the vouchers would likely have little effect on the district.

"I expect for the impact to be minimal here," she said. "If people were going to put their kids in a private school, they would have done it by now." Murphy isn’t keen on the voucher program overall. Even though schools would be reimbursed for the loss of students using vouchers, the money would come from the state General Education Fund.

That is not Murphy’s only concern. "A disadvantage I see is that 13 years down the road we will be funding side by side, private schools, public schools and charter schools," she said.

Bruce King, the administrator of Soaring Wings Montessori School, said, "I don’t know if this going to work in Park City." For one thing, he sees the maximum voucher of $3,000 per year as not that helpful, when annual tuition at Soaring Wings is $9,300. "It’s extremely expensive to run a school in Park City," he said. "Tuitions are where they have to be here." King said that Soaring Wings would likely not apply for eligibility for the voucher program. For one reason, the teaching philosophy of Soaring Wings differs greatly from state-run schools, despite using many of the same competency tests. "That would absolutely affect the quality of our program," King said. "Having to get the state involved is a bad idea." Another reason is the cost of applying for eligibility, which requires an independent audit, paid for by the school.

Duna Strachan, the director of Soaring Wings added, "We’re always full. Any openings in the upper levels are filled from lower levels." She said that new students are admitted at the preschool level, students too young to qualify for the voucher program requirements of five years of age or older.

Amy Fehlberg, head of the Colby School, had a different take. "I was shocked it passed that’s something I’ve worked on ever since I’ve been at Colby. When it passed, I was really overjoyed. All the time and energy over four years has finally come to fruition." Fehlberg said the Colby School will apply for voucher status. She said of state requirements, "We’ll be in line with anything they could require of us." She saw the most benefit for students who are slightly above the financial aid cutoff. "We’ve had at least one-third of our students on financial aid, she said. Tuition at Colby is more than $13,000 annually for students in grades 1-8.

Jeanne Hunter, of the Park City Academy, is excited to have voucher legislation pass. "We’ve worked on it at the Capitol for one and one-half years and are glad to see it pass." she added the academy would definitely apply. "What this will do for our school is help us offer more financial aid for more people." She said every applicant currently receives financial aid on a case-by-case basis, and that students may be able to get financial aid coupled with vouchers.

Should the voucher law stand, the law could take effect for the 2007-08 school year, or, conceivably, it may not go into effect at all, but Park City schools have polarized views and some will watch the laws future closely, ready to take action.

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