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Voucher bill passes House

Frank Fisher, of the Record staff

House Bill 148, the School Voucher Bill, passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 38 to 37, Friday. The legislation sponsored by Rep. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, now moves on to the Senate.

The school voucher bill, which has failed to pass the House in seven previous attempts, makes up to $3,000 available in scholarship funds per year to parents with a child previously in public education, to apply that money toward tuition in a private school. The maximum would only be available to students who qualify for free or reduced lunch criteria. Depending on parent income, vouchers could provide as little as $500 per year for those with higher incomes.

Those in opposition of vouchers claim public schools would be weakened by money taken from public education.

"Families who decide to purchase a private education should not receive public tax monies to do so," said Doug Nelson, serving as the president of the Salt Lake City Board of Education.

In reponse, proponents state that money taken away from public schools, an average figured to be $1929 per voucher, according to Urquhart, would be returned to the public school system for five years by the legislature, a provision of the bill.

On Thursday, the House Education committee entertained public comments on the bill. Two similar lines formed on either side of the building, those in favor and those opposed. Urquhart led off with his reasons for proposing the legislation. "Public schools are a big system, a system that doesn’t work for all. We need choice for those who it doesn’t work for. This will help people clear the financial hurdle."

A diverse list of reasons for and against the bill led to little repetition of arguments. For those who said the several thousand dollar stipend would favor the wealthy, who would likely be the only ones who would be able to afford most private schools, others shot back, that they work several jobs to give their child an education they cannot get in public schools, and vouchers help.

Some questioned whether, should public funds would go to private schools, many of which are religious schools, who under law cannot receive public funds.

Ken Johnson, who sits on a Milwaukee public school board, in a state where vouchers are in use, supported vouchers, "Let’s think about all the children. Some children can take advantage of this. Citizens as a group do favor public choice," he said.


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