SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — The Utah Senate Education Committee has voted 7-2 to advance H.B. 215 to the Senate floor on Monday, Jan. 23. Sen. David Hinkins (R-Ferron) and Sen. Kathleen Riebe (D-Cottonwood Heights) voted against the bill.

The bill ties salary increases for teachers with a scholarship program. Sponsored by Rep. Candice B. Pierucci (R-Herriman), H.B. 215 will establish the Utah Fits All Scholarship Program, which is essentially a school voucher system designed to send tax dollars allocated for education back to students, including those receiving private education.

A second vote is expected on Wednesday, Jan. 25, and a final vote is scheduled for the following day, Jan. 26.

The Utah House Democratic Caucus released the following statement upon the passing of the bill:

“We are disappointed to see the passage of HB 215. Our children are the cornerstone and future
of our state and their education should be one of our foremost priorities. Over 90% of Utah’s
school-age children attend public schools. This bill puts taxpayer dollars that could be
meaningfully invested into our public schools into exclusive and unregulated private schools
without any accountability. As Utah House Democrats, we are passionate about ensuring our
incredible public school teachers have their pay increased. Teacher pay should not be tied to
the passage of a school voucher program. Our teachers and our children deserve better.”

Opponents of the bill say the way the program works will divert funds away from the public education system.

Members of the Utah Parent-Teacher Association stated in a press release that although they do support increasing teacher salaries, they cannot stand behind distributing school vouchers that may cost as much as $8,000 per student with no oversight on teaching quality, standards, assessment and accountability.

“We are extremely concerned that HB 215 leaves no protections for Special Education students. We do not support the creation of a new program manager who is encouraged to maximize the number of eligible service providers throughout the year. We are concerned that this program creates inequities for our rural students and are worried about new service providers being created in these areas with no accountability.”

Supporter Ernie Valencia said in the hearing that public schools should not worry too much about what the bill would make available to students all across Utah.

“[This bill] is for kids who are falling through the cracks and who need help in areas that may help them become better people in adulthood,” Valencia said.