Voucher issue hits home stretch
With the election just a week away, voucher opponents and advocates on Tuesday debated whether a school voucher system would cut into other state-funded programs.
If Utah voters pass school vouchers next Tuesday, money for vouchers will come from the state's general fund. Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, a voucher opponent, said vouchers could cut into programs that also are supported by the general fund, such as Corrections and health and human services.
"I would be, if I was the public, very very worried because this is a very volatile fund," Allen said after the debate at the Salt Lake City Main Library hosted by KCPW Radio and Fox Channel 13.
Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, a voucher supporter, said during the debate a voucher program would be more likely to save money. The Utah State Office of Education estimates an additional 155,000 students will enter Utah schools over the next 10 years. A voucher program, Hughes said, would help to divert some of those students to private schools at a lower cost to the state.
"That ultimately does save these general fund dollars, which we have a need for," Hughes said.
One listener asked whether offering families voucher money would violate separation of church and state if parents put the money toward private, religious schools. If voters pass Referendum 1 on Tuesday, all families eventually would be eligible to receive $500 to $3,000 from the state per child per year, depending on income.
Richard Eyre, a voucher supporter, said the program would not violate the Constitution.
"The money doesn't go to the school, it goes to the parents," Eyre said.
Hughes added that religious colleges such as Brigham Young University are filled with students attending on federal Pell Grants.
Voucher opponent Pat Rusk, however, said such an argument is a semantics game. Ultimately, taxpayer money would go to religious schools under the voucher program, she said.
"A Pell Grant is not given to millionaires," the former Utah Education Association president added. "It's given on the basis of need and must be taken to an accredited school."
Under Utah's voucher law, families of all incomes would be eligible for different amounts of voucher money, and private schools accepting vouchers would not necessarily have to be accredited.
Upcoming debates on vouchers
* Larry Miller will host a voucher debate Thursday at 12:30 p.m. at Jordan Commons, 9400 S. State St., Sandy. Doug Wright of KSL Radio will moderate this community forum.
* Juan Diego Catholic High School will hold a voucher debate at the school, 300 E. 11800 South, Draper, on Thursday at 7 p.m. Richard Eyre, of Parents for Choice in Education, will debate Pat Rusk, former president of the Utah Education Association.