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State Education Board Calls Emergency Session on School Vouchers

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The state Board of Education has scheduled an emergency meeting for Tuesday to decide whether to adopt a private-school voucher program despite a voter recall effort or keep it on hold until the November election.

Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, a voucher opponent, will ask the board to get off the fence and affirmatively reject the voucher program, at least for now. Allen filed a 48-page petition Friday asking the board to issue an order saying a partial voucher law that remains on the books isn't enough for it to authorize the program.

"I hope it will bring clarity to a muddled issue," Allen said Friday.

The board also will take up Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's advice -- outlined in 20 pages -- to adopt the program regardless of the Nov. 6 vote.

Shurtleff's confidential memo, made public Friday by the school board, answers 25 questions posed by board members who didn't think they had the authority to authorize private school tuition vouchers pending the November referendum.

Because of the uncertainty, the board let a May 15 deadline to adopt rules governing the awarding of vouchers to parents lapse.

Shurtleff argued the board can and must authorize vouchers despite the recall effort. That effort targets a voucher bill approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jon Huntsman in March, but not a set of amendments passed days later to clean up the original bill.

"The board is susceptible to a lawsuit for its failure to adopt rules," Shurtleff wrote.

The board said it was subject to lawsuits for adopting or refusing to adopt the voucher program. It asked which stance would leave it in a stronger position in court.

"My soundest legal advice is that an agency is always in a more defensible legal posture if the agency has implemented and adhered to the law currently in effect," Shurtleff replied.

The board's dueling agenda is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday. It will take public comment before closing its doors for an executive session to make a decision.

Huntsman pledged Thursday to follow the will of voters in November and do what he can to kill the program if it goes down in defeat, regardless of the second law.

Utah's program, if adopted, would create the nation's broadest voucher program by giving any parent $500 to $3,000 per child, depending on family income, to use for tuition at private schools. Other states' voucher programs target low-income families of children with special education needs.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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