Teacher pay raises and vouchers for home-school students, Cox signs Utah’s HB 215 – St George News

Gov. Spencer Cox signed into law HB 215 on Saturday, St. George, Utah, date and location unspecified | Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock for representational purposes only, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Saturday morning, Gov. Spencer Cox signed the controversial House Bill 215, enacting a school voucher program involving teacher raises.

File photo showing Gov. Spencer Cox in St. George, on Oct. 7, 2022 | File photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“This bill strikes a good balance,” Cox said in a statement. “More than 90% of parents support Utah schools and so do we.”

HB 215: Funding for Teacher Salaries and Optional Education Opportunities has been at the center of controversy recently due to the opposition raised by professional education organizations in the state including, but not limited to, The Utah State Superintendent’s Association, The Utah Education Association and the Utah State Board Of Education.

The bill is split into two parts, one where teachers would get a $6,000 compensation raise, while the other part would create a scholarship program where students who seek educational opportunities other than public schools could receive up to $8,000 annually.

These educational opportunities include homeschooling and charter schools.

The teachers’ raises would be paid through the same scholarship fund titled Utah Fits All Scholarship Program. However, all payments would be done through school vouchers.

Those opposing the bill, including Washington County School District Superintendent Larry Bergeson, said the bill is misleading and could potentially hurt public education.

The local chapter of the NAACP released a letter urging Cox to veto the bill, stating “this Bill should have been separated to allow debate on teacher pay raises and vouchers.”

Larry Bergeson (far left) expressed opposition to HB 215. File photo taken on Jan. 10, 2023 | Photo courtesy of Washington County School District, St. George News

They also argued in the letter teachers deserve a greater raise and should receive a minimum of $25,000 each.

Cox said in the statement that the top priority for this session has been the “significant increase in teacher compensation and education funding.”

He commended lawmakers and the efforts of the Utah education community who “helped push for more accountability measures which were not included in the original bill.”

Cox also showed support to parents seeking other educational means, rather than public schools, but gave an addendum on public education.

“School choice works best when we adequately fund public education and we remove unnecessary regulations that burden our public schools and make it difficult for them to succeed,” Cox said.

Teacher raises will be enacted beginning of next year, while the applications for the scholarship program will be available online by March 2024.

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