School Vouchers in Utah

February 26, 2007

On February 12, Utah's Governor, Jon Huntsman, signed a law setting up a state-wide program offering vouchers for children attending private, including religious, schools.

Under the new law every public school student who is transferred to a private school will receive a voucher worth between $500 to $3,000/year. Public school districts will lose a portion of the funds allocated for vouchers; after 5 years, the public schools will bear the full cost of the vouchers. Utah's Legislative Fiscal Analyst' Office estimates that the voucher program will cost about $450 million over the next 12 years.

Utah already ranks last among the 50 states in per-pupil funding for education; in 2003 the state's per-pupil funding averaged $4,860.

The new voucher law also weakens private school accountability. Private school teachers will not have to be licensed or pass criminal background checks and private schools will not have to meet federal or state standards in regard to curriculum, instructional methods, etc.

All across the state, teachers, parents, students and concerned citizens are fighting against the law. In a recent public letter, entitled "Vouchers Are an Attack on Our Public Institutions," the leaders of the Salt Lake City Board of Education wrote:

"Vouchers let Utah legislators off the hook. They do nothing to address underfunding of public school programs. They will not reduce class sizes, train teachers, develop innovative curricula, rebuild unsafe facilities, or pay rising transportation costs....

"Vouchers deepen social divides and leave taxpayers without a voice....

"Vouchers compromise the separation of church and state and violate the Utah Constitution.... We must shore up the 200 year-old constitutional protections for our rights of conscience. By opening the door for public money to flow to religious institutions, in direct violation of Utah's Constitution, vouchers chip away at those safeguards."

"Make no mistake. Vouchers are weapons employed in a strategic attack on public institutions. The voucher movement betrays the public good by encouraging narrow-minded self-interest and a willingness to turn away from our responsibilities to each other. The goal is to funnel government support toward private and corporate gain and to de-emphasize government's social stewardship."

Utah's new voucher program is part of a nationwide attack against our country's public schools. People from all walks of life need to join in the ongoing struggles against vouchers and other forms of school privatization.