When we pass a law, it should simplify government and protect choice. HB 215, the school voucher bill now before the Utah Legislature, fails to meet either criterion.
Instead, it will set up a special interest fund, create an entirely new wing of bureaucracy within the Utah State Board of Education to manage and handle the scholarship fund, with $2.5 million allocated for administration costs, and extend an exorbitant handout to only 5,000 students when the state has closer to 40,000 students currently enrolled in private education and homeschooling programs.
A more straightforward approach that respects the choice of students and families to learn outside of the public education system would be to extend a refundable tax credit for each child in the state who homeschools or attends private school. We don’t need to establish a program manager to qualify providers, gather portfolios and administer assessments. Instead, we can simply trust and respect the choice of individuals.
With the currently allocated fund set at $45 million, a credit of $1,000 would allow all of the families of children outside of public school to benefit rather than a select few. Some may balk at this lower amount, but many non-traditional students still use and access state and public school resources. Private and homeschool students join public school sports teams, participate in drama productions, access curriculum resources and enroll in extracurricular class offerings. I have proctored AP exams for home school groups, using public school resources and time, and many non-traditional students access the publicly subsidized K-12 online curriculum. Many of the non-traditional students in our state still use and access publicly funded education resources.
The second reason HB 215 is a lousy bill is that it does nothing to get at the causes of teacher burnout, but seeks to cover it up with a temporary patch.
I can think of no other profession where you are asked to wear the hat of educator, caretaker, mentor, counselor, and paramedic. The raise being offered to teachers would equate to about $350 before taxes.
In my eight years of teaching, I have sat through training on responding to an active shooter threat and have been issued a tourniquet and bleeding kit to deploy should our worst fears be realized. I have sat through multiple active lockdowns, one where a team of officers swept through my hall, rifles drawn, looking for a believed threat. I have grieved with students on three occasions when one of our classmates lost their life to suicide.
An extra $350 a month will not magically erase the monumental challenges teachers and students are facing.
A month ago, a first-grade teacher was shot by a 6-year-old. After apprehending the weapon and escorting her class to safety, she collapsed before being rushed to the hospital. A meaningful motion to support teachers would be to invest in more mental health and behavioral professionals to support and work with our youth.
Many taxpayers’ dollars are diverted to special interests that only benefit a few. Subsidies for developers, extensive and costly reservoirs and irrigation systems predominantly used for the profit of corporate farms, and tax subsidies in the form of low-interest-guaranteed loans for business ventures such as the inland port.
When we must take money from the populace in the form of taxes, it had better benefit the public, not a select few.
Education is an investment that yields fruits for all in our society, from the lowliest to the highest.
James Hansen has taught in Utah’s public schools for eight years and was the 2022 Utah Libertarian Party nominee for the U.S. Senate.