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Paul Nelson, KSL NewsradioIt's probably the hottest topic in the upcoming election. Commercials both for and against school vouchers are all over your television. Let's turn the TV off and ask both supporters and critics of State Referendum 1 to answer some questions.
Parents For Choice In Education Spokesman Lincoln Fillmore says, "It's a very small program, but it benefits thousands of kids."
Fillmore is supporting Referendum 1. Opposing the referendum is Utahns For Public Schools spokeswoman Lisa Johnson.
She says, "If there's extra money to go into education, we'd like to see that money go into public schools where 96 percent of the kids go."
One of the few things both sides agree on is how vouchers work. A voucher up to $3,000 can help a low-income child to pay for private school tuition, and both sides acknowledge that money comes from the general fund, not the uniform school fund. So, what about the claims that vouchers take away resources from public schools? Fillmore says it's not true.
"[The] public education pot stays as large as it always was," Fillmore says.
But Johnson says it's not that simple.
"The tricky thing is there is not a clear line between those two funds because higher education is funded from both," she says.
Johnson says if vouchers get too expensive, less money would be left for higher education in the general fund, and lawmakers could take money from the uniform education fund to make up the difference.
Johnson says, "Teachers at voucher schools are not required to have any certification or license or even a college degree."
This is true. However, Fillmore says if they don't have their degree, teachers are required to have years of experience in the field they teach.
Fillmore says, "For example, you could have a computer programmer teach computer programming."
However, critics say not all private schools are accredited like public schools.
Next topic… referendum opponents say there is no accountability in voucher schools.
Johnson says, "There are no basic curriculum requirements or attendance requirements for voucher schools."
Fillmore says, "All the accountability really rests with parents. ‘Is this the school for my child?' The parents will always be the ones that are best able to make that decision."
As far as how much this program costs, an impartial state analysis says it would cost Utah $5.5 million for the first year, but it could cost the state $71 million in its thirteenth year, when more students are eligible. However, the same report says it could save school districts $28 million in the thirteenth year.