Genevra Prothero: Hope Scholarship Program would be another nail in the coffin of public education

HB331 is a voucher program disguised as an opportunity with a deceptive title.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Candace Pierucci (R-Riverton) presents HB331 during a meeting of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee at the Capitol, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. The bill would introduce school vouchers to Utah students to attend non-public schooling.

HB331, the Hope Scholarship Program, sponsored by Rep. Candice B. Pierucci, a Republican from District 52, is a voucher bill being disguised as a wonderful opportunity for Utah with the wording in the title. If this bill passes, it will be one of the final nails in the coffin for the public education system in Utah

I attended the committee hearing via Zoom in hopes of making a public comment to oppose the bill. The House Revenue and Taxation Committee was late starting the meeting because they had to wait for Pierucci to arrive.

As we waited, I went through the list of bills related to education that I could find online. It is a daunting task because there are so many sponsored bills, plus you need to know how to track and check on the status. I originally went to the calendar on the le.utah.gov website and searched for the House Education Committee on the calendar in attempts to find the meeting. I am appalled that this bill is being voted on by a committee that has nothing to do with education. This makes it easier for our representatives to pass a bill right under our noses without a chance for us to know about it.

I must say that Vice Chair Adam Robertson was fair in allowing public comments to be equally heard among those opposing and supporting the bill. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to give a one minute comment. I was able to mention my concerns about our taxpayer money going to private schools that have a religious curriculum. We need to keep a separation of church and school. I am thankful that we can use technology such as zoom to participate in these hearings/debates.

Steve Phelps also gave a public comment opposing the bill, with data from other states that show that these vouchers do not work. Milwaukee for example, has had vouchers for over 20 years. Of the students, 70% use vouchers and they still rank dead last in mathematics and second to last in reading in the nation.

I am disappointed as a parent and a Utah citizen to see that voucher bills and transparency bills are the top priority for most of our legislators this year, instead of addressing teacher pay and the shortage we have because of covid, it shows a total lack of respect for our public education professionals.

Keep in mind that teachers are at work during these meetings. They need parents to start paying attention to what is happening during this legislative session because it does impact all our students and our future.

Genevra Prothero

Genevra Prothero is a mother of a student attending public school in Davis County. She is a cofounder of Elevate Public Education Utah, which advocates for public education and teachers.