It has not taken the Legislature long to immerse itself in major issues of great public interest. I mention two in the education realm:
So called "school vouchers" which would give up to $3,000 per student to help fund the cost of attending private schools, including parochial schools.
Elimination of in-state college tuition for students who have attended local public schools but whose parents are not lawfully in the country.
If the voucher bill were to become law, it would face a constitutional challenge arising out of Utah's unique religious/political history. Great care was taken by the framers to ensure that state-funded schools would be free from sectarian control. The bill attempts to dance around this limitation, but it will not be easy. The subsidy employs a graduated formula that starts at the poverty level and reaches parents with an income over $100,000. That covers well over 90 percent of the populace. However, this generous ceiling is offset by the bill's exclusion of all students now enrolled in private schools. They can never qualify. This may give rise to a constitutional challenge based upon "equal protection" grounds. Even if the voucher concept were legally sound, its ultimate merit is open to serious debate.
The proposal to disqualify a particular group of Utah high school graduates from paying in-state college tuition tugs at your heart strings. These young men and women are caught in a debate not of their making. For whatever reason, their parents are in the country illegally. The future of such persons is in a state of uncertainty throughout America. We all hope for a national solution, but that does not appear to be forthcoming. What do we do in the meantime? The children are here, they are real, we have educated them in our public schools, and they cannot be put on hold while a solution pends. Aside from any entitlement on their part, what course best serves the general public interest? On balance, I believe there is no safeguard of persons and property and no ingredient more protective of the general welfare of a free people than an educated and enlightened populace. Conversely, our society is no where at greater risk than with displaced persons who are here but excluded from the opportunity to move forward.