Legislative report submitted by UEA Policy Ambassador Elinda Nedreberg, 7-12 language arts and theatre teacher at Tintic High School in Tintic School District
This tumultuous legislative session has reminded me of many previous actions taken by UEA during my tenure as a teacher, and my participation in those actions. During my second year teaching in an urban district, the very first voucher bill – which was actually called a voucher bill – passed the Utah legislature and was signed by the Governor. As members of the UEA, we were asked to gather signatures to submit a referendum for the people of Utah to vote on this specific voucher system. I had so many questions about the entire situation, so I asked my building reps and other teachers:
- Why were vouchers bad? They funnel money away from public schools and local districts to private organizations.
- How did they affect me as a teacher? Programs might be cut, and I would have fewer resources to help students.
- How did they affect my students? In the long run, services could be cut, taking resources away from students in public schools.
After receiving these answers and looking into it a bit myself, I decided to take a signature packet. I remember having some very challenging conversations with family members, but many of them signed. The referendum was put on the ballot and vouchers failed. I was grateful for the information I was able to gather from my leaders and from the UEA.
This year, another voucher bill has been introduced. You can find the bill language here. The issues surrounding vouchers remain. Legislators know what kinds of red flags a bill with “voucher” in the title can raise, so the current bill labels the voucher system as a “Hope Scholarship,” a seemingly positive label stolen directly from a federal tax credit program for college students. I find myself in a completely different situation, as I am now in my sixteenth year of teaching, and I am now in a rural district, so the bill has a slightly different impact.
The main flaw of previous bill is still there: money would be taken away from districts and students. However, in a rural district, the consequences of a bill like this are much easier to see, as even a small cut to an already small rural district budget has enormous repercussions. Rural students do not have access to private schools like urban students do, so they are not likely to be able to utilize this program. While there is a clause to pay for transportation, most paid transportation services do not exist in rural districts. (What train or bus are students supposed to take from Delta?)
Location is one factor, but poverty is another. Even if students here in Eureka qualified for the voucher as it is currently written, the amount their families would have left to pay for tuition could range from approximately $2,000 to $55,000. This would be nearly impossible to pay, as these students live close to or very much below the poverty level. Because many of our students live below the poverty level, I and all of the other teachers here do everything we can to provide for their needs and desires with current funding, which is already a challenge. Losing funding in our very small district would make this even harder to do than it currently is.
Fortunately, you and I have the opportunity to continue to work with UEA and other members to fight this bill. Please do what you can to make your voice heard. Ask questions. Read the voucher talking points from UEA and educate your coworkers. Email or call your representative. Attend UEA Educator Day on the Hill. With everyone’s best efforts, we can and will defeat this bill and continue to provide all of our students – urban and rural – with the services and programs they need.