The UEA officially asked Governor Spencer Cox to veto a bill that would expand private school vouchers. Senate Bill 62 – Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program Amendments expands a voucher program for students with special needs to non-special needs siblings of recipients.
In her letter to the governor dated March 8, UEA President Heidi Matthews wrote:
“The Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship has been in existence for less than two years (enacted in May 2020 special session) and SB62 expands eligibility before any program data has been received or reviewed by the State Board of Education. Required reporting includes the number of students participating from each school district, administrative costs of the program, standards used by the scholarship granting organization to determine student eligibility and savings to the state and districts for students utilizing the scholarship program (lines 195-206). Expansion of the program before this required reporting is completed by the scholarship granting organization is premature. Any program expansion must be based on clear data and demonstrated need.
“In addition, the legislation restricts existing State Board of Education oversight, including rule-making authority, over the scholarship granting organization (lines 174, 176-183 and 258-267).”
The bill passed narrowly in both the House and the Senate, indicating the divisive nature of the program expansion.
Legislation creating the voucher originally passed in the 2020 legislative session. UEA was successful in asking then-Governor Gary Herbert to veto the bill. The legislature overturned the veto in an April 2020 special legislative session, passing both the House (40-34) and the Senate (15-14) by margins of only one vote.
The issue made a surprising return this legislative session. Senate Bill 62 was originally titled Income Tax Rate Reductions, sponsored by Sen. Dan McCay. In the February 11 Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee, Sen. Lincoln Fillmore substituted the original bill for the Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program Amendments. In substituting the bill in committee, Sen. Fillmore acknowledged this “changes substantially the substance of the bill” and committee members questioned whether the substitute version was “germane” to the intent of the original bill.
The governor has until March 24 to sign or veto bills.