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Program would give school funds directly to students

Published February 24, 2012 6:53 pm

HB123 • Pared down plan would admit just 500 students.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Lawmakers aren't ready to give education funding directly to all Utah high school students instead of their schools just yet — but they might be ready to give the idea a try on a smaller scale.

The House Education Committee on Friday narrowly passed a new version of HB123, which would give education funding to 500 11th- and 12th-graders instead of to their schools. Under the bill, the state would put about $6,400 a year into education savings accounts for 11th-and 12th-graders who chose to participate.

Students could then choose to spend that money to attend public schools, including charter schools; take public school online classes; pay for courses offered by public and certain private, nonprofit Utah colleges; and/or take classes from a private entity under contract with the state school board. School districts and other providers would determine how much to charge for classes and that amount would be deducted from student accounts.

Students could use any money left in their accounts after high school to continue their educations.

The original version of the bill would have applied to all 9th- through 12th-graders, but lawmakers worried about both the program itself and the logistics of making such a large change so quickly.

Given that hesitation, Rep. Kenneth Sumsion, R-American Fork, proposed the new version of the bill Friday, which implements the changes as a pilot program.

Bill sponsor Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland, said it's a chance to take a step forward in giving families greater choice, flexibility and opportunity.

"I think we can have more faith in students and parents in this state than some believe we should have," Dougall said. "I think they're much more capable and able to choose for themselves what education makes sense for them."

Questions and criticisms, however, remained.

Kory Holdaway, with the Utah Education Association, said his organization would rather see a task force study the issue for a year.

Patti Harrington, with the Utah School Boards Association and Utah School Superintendents Association, said, "We have many more questions and concerns than we have support for the general concept." She wondered, for example, what would happen if a student spent all his money before graduation and who would handle accounting issues.

A number of lawmakers on the committee also said they still had questions though they liked the idea.

The committee ultimately passed the bill 8-6. It now moves to the House floor.