SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — The Utah House Education Standing Committee has approved a bill that will significantly increase the salaries of public school teachers on Thursday, Jan. 19.
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.
The scholarship will fund a range of educational services including tutors, after-school programs, textbooks, computer devices or costs associated with extracurricular activities. Under this program, parents will receive up to $8,000 per student to cover those aforementioned expenses needed for their children’s education regardless if they are attending public or private schools.
The bill says teachers in each school district, charter school, and the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind could see an increase ranging from $4,200 to $8,400, depending on if the Scholarship Program is funded and in effect.
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,” Utah PTA stated. “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.
With a 12-4 vote, H.B. 215 passes the Education Committee and moves to the House Floor.