Caring for a child with special needs presents many unique challenges; not the least of which is education. Every parent with a child on an Individual Education Plan (IEP) knows how involved and personal their child’s plan is. Likewise, every Utah teacher wants to meet the needs of each of their students with a goal to meet them at their level and help maximize each child’s opportunities to learn.

That’s why it was so concerning that Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed HB332, a bill to expand special needs scholarships in Utah. As governor and lieutenant governor, not only would we have let this bill become law, but we would encourage more legislation like it. The Burningham-McCay Administration will be one that offers parents more choice and control when it comes to their children’s education.

Having 10 children between our two families, we know that each and every child is unique. We realize that each child has specific ways they learn and excel. Every child should be given the opportunity to succeed. Our children with special needs especially deserve the very best education, and their parents are acutely aware of what that education looks like.

The Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program — which allows students with special needs to attend a private school — has been a huge success here in Utah since its passage in 2005. The small amount of funding that has gone toward this program has stretched a long way in helping families meet the needs of their children.

The time is now to build upon that success and create an individual and corporate tax credit that would be used to fund a new scholarship program for special needs students. The new program proposed in HB332, sponsored by Rep. Mike Schultz, does just that.

This new program would give parents not only a say in where their child with special needs is educated, but also how they are educated. There are far too many loving parents in Utah who could benefit from greater flexibility, finding the right type of education for a child who has special needs. We know, because as Jeff has traveled the state over the past year, he has heard from parent after parent who is starving for more control and options when it comes to K-12 education. Choice creates competition, and competition creates better results. Shouldn’t we all want the best results for every child in Utah?

The Cox/Herbert Administration said HB332 was vetoed for tax credit reasons, but could that possibly be the reason? The special needs scholarships actually save the state money. Every scholarship saves taxpayers and the state approximately $1,000 per student in a traditional classroom and $1,900 per student in a dedicated special needs classroom. However, more important than saving money, this program would serve many more special needs students than the current Carson Smith Scholarship allows due to a cap that was placed on the program. What we have here is a win-win situation.

When Arizona elected Gov. Doug Ducey, the former CEO of Coldstone Creamery, he went to work to innovate and modernize Arizona’s education system. Ducey recently expanded Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarships, a similar special needs scholarship program, and plans to expand it even further.

Like Arizona, Utah needs new leadership with a fresh perspective that will not be afraid to innovate. The Burningham-McCay Administration will be one of leadership and innovation. In this time of economic uncertainty, it is imperative that we elect a team that will get the economy revving again and will put Utah’s children, especially those with special needs, ahead of special interests.

Jeff Burningham


Dan McCay

Jeff Burningham and Dan McCay are Republican candidates for governor and lieutenant governor of Utah.