SALT LAKE CITY — More than a decade after voters defeated the idea at the ballot box, school vouchers are set to return to the Utah State Legislature.
Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Sandy, confirmed on Wednesday he was running a bill to bring back the controversial idea.
"I think the climate has changed some on these education options over the past couple of years," he told reporters. "We’ve seen parents who have not typically looked outside public education options that have found other avenues and explored other options and there’s been a public push and a public will to say 'Hey, there’s other options out there.'"
The bill has not yet been made public, but it would essentially offer a "scholarship" for people to take their child to a private school. Sen. Cullimore insisted funding would be geared more toward lower-income Utahns. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that as much as $36 million could be appropriated for the effort.
Teachers unions and education groups have long opposed vouchers, arguing it takes money from the cash-strapped public school system. When the idea was put before voters in 2007, it was resoundingly defeated. Lawmakers have declined to take it up again, until now.
"Here we go again," the Utah Education Association said in a statement on Wednesday. "It's disappointing the legislature is proposing yet another voucher-type bill that would create a system to divert money intended for our public school children to privately run, for-profit institutions where there is no taxpayer accountability. Schemes like this have been tried in other states with no measurable increase in student achievement. Utahns resoundingly defeated school vouchers at the polls in 2007."
Sen. Cullimore said this time around, education funding in Utah has been tweaked and he is working with education stakeholders.
"While it may not be popular among some of the education institutions, we are working with them. We’ve met with the UEA...," he said. "We’re taking their feedback and we’re trying to continue to work on this bill which is based on that feedback."
When asked by FOX 13 News if his voucher bill could spark a citizen referendum should it pass the legislature this year, Sen. Cullimore said he hoped people see the value of it.