On Feb. 12, despite overwhelming support for public education from the citizens of Utah, our elected representatives in the legislature passed HB 148 giving taxpayer dollars to private school vouchers, and Governor Huntsman signed it into law. They were told that it is a way to improve educational opportunities for all, a way to give all parents more choice in their childÃ¯Â¿Â½s education, a way to save taxpayers money, and a way to build better public schools through competition. They were sold a bill of goods.
This is the most sweeping private school entitlement program in our nation. I'm sure the wealthy corporations and individuals funding this drive plan to take what they've done in Utah and put it in place all over the nation. If we don't stop them, the public schools that have made our United States of America the greatest nation in the world will be lost. Since the founding of our country, our public schools have offered quality educational opportunities for all classes of citizens. They have instilled core American values and taught cooperative interaction and understanding of diverse racial and cultural groups.
Legislative fiscal analysts estimate vouchers will cost the taxpayers more than $450 million over the next 13 years. Most students who use vouchers will be those who never attended public schools and who never would have attended public schools. Not one student in Emery County will benefit from any of this money.
Studies of voucher programs have shown that research-based reforms, not competition, make the difference in improving public schools. They have also found that private school funding is not about parents selecting schools, it's about schools selecting parents. Private schools can and do accept students based on their family income, abilities, religion, etc. Utah's voucher program requires no accountability from private schools for the public funds they receive. If we pander to the wealthy and allow extremist political or religious groups to indoctrinate the next generation we risk destroying everything our nation stands for.
Thanks to the rights we have as U.S. citizens we can still make our voices heard if we act now. On March 1, a group called Utahns for Public Schools, filed an intent to pursue a ballot referendum on the new voucher law. The referendum will let Utah voters decide whether to send our tax dollars to private schools or not. This vote will not happen unless we get more than 100,000 signatures on the petitions in the next 30 days. I hope several hundred of those needed signatures will come from the good people in Emery County.