Veto pledge may impede advancement of school voucher legislation – February 17

In his monthly press conference, Gov. Spencer Cox said he will veto school voucher legislation if it passes. A measure providing additional help for students and families of students learning English passed its first vote. Bill to expand full-day kindergarten passed the House and now goes to the Senate.

School Voucher Legislation: Gov. Spencer Cox stated in a press conference this morning (view the comments here, beginning about 21:30) that he would veto the private school voucher bill, House Bill 331, if it passed the legislature. The announcement may give pause to legislators promoting the private school voucher program. The governor also praised educators, stating that teachers bore the brunt of keeping schools open during the pandemic and recognizing how difficult the past two years have been. He cautioned the legislature against “piling on” with bills that send negative messages to educators.

In response, UEA President Heidi Matthews issued the following statement:

“Governor Cox recognizes what educators and families have known for years, that ‘we are underfunding our schools.’ He is absolutely right in saying ‘you can’t take money that could go to our schools and allow it to go to private schools when you’re not fully funding the education system in our state.’ This is one of the many reasons the UEA opposes vouchers.

“We appreciate Governor Cox’s acknowledgement of the incredible work accomplished by our Utah teachers over the past two years. He also appropriately recognized the extreme stress our educators are feeling right now. The Governor is correct when he says our lawmakers must be more respectful and supportive of our educators when proposing legislation.”

House Education Committee (reported by Sara Jones): The House Education Committee picked up the pace today, hearing three UEA-tracked bills and running out of time on a fourth bill scheduled on the agenda. Each of the following passed unanimously and now go to the full House for consideration:

  • SB78: School Board Expansion Requirements creates some flexibility for school districts with larger student populations to expand the number of local school board members.
  • HB302: Educational Language Services Amendments requires districts and charter schools to adopt certain policies to support students learning English and engagement with families of students learning English as well as creating an advisory council related to translation and interpretation services. UEA Legislative Team member Chase Clyde spoke in support of the bill.
  • SB127 (1st sub.): Early Literacy Outcomes Improvement creates a statewide, comprehensive approach to early literacy instruction and impacts educator preparation programs, literacy instructional coaching and many other supports for early childhood education.

House Floor (reported by Mike Kelley): Three UEA-tracked bills were debated and passed the House:

Senate Floor (reported by Mike Kelley): HB21: School and Child Care Center Water Testing Requirements requires testing water for lead in schools and requires action if lead test results equal or exceed certain levels. The UEA supports this legislation. It passed unanimously.

LegTeam Insights

Your UEA Legislative Team is on the Hill every day, working behind the scenes to represent educators. Here are some insights:

Reported by Legislative Team Member Sara Jones: The governor’s announcement this morning that he would veto school voucher legislation if it passed was a surprise to many, but not to the UEA Legislative Team. In the weeks leading up to the 2022 Legislative Session, we met with the governor and representatives from his office on multiple occasions, each time stressing our strong opposition to any type of proposal that would divert money from the public education system to private, for-profit interests. Governor Cox expressed to our Team his willingness to veto a statewide voucher plan until such time as he felt our current public education system was fully funded. He reiterated that position today when he said, “At some point I will be absolutely willing to support vouchers but that point is not now because we are underfunding our schools. You can’t take money that could go to our schools and allow it to go to private schools when you’re not fully funding the education system in our state.”

 

Policy Ambassador Messages

In 2022, 15 educators were selected as UEA Policy Ambassadors. These teachers received training from the UEA Legislative Team and agree to engage with legislators and share their experiences with UEA members. Here is an excerpt from a new submission:

No Hope in the ‘Hope Scholarship’

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…”

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