Top stories of 2007, #5: School vouchers

Top stories of 2007, #5: School vouchers

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Richard Piatt reportingIt was an up-and-down year for school vouchers in 2007. After various proposals year after year, the Legislature finally passed a plan. But that was far from the end of the story. It all added up to make the number five story of 2007: School vouchers.

It was one of the final issues the 2007 Legislature tackled: A school voucher program based on financial need, for use at qualified private schools. But it was far from an easy sell. It passed in the House by just one vote.

In February Rep. Brad Last, R-Washington County, said, "To every single one of you who wants to lynch me right now, I say don't talk to me until you read this bill. And don't talk to me until you do."

But victory for voucher supporters was short-lived. Opponents started a petition drive to repeal the new law.

Melinda Peterson, region 6 director of the PTA, said, "I think it's important that parents have an opportunity to vote on this issue. I feel passionately about this, that's why I'm here volunteering my time to get this process rolling."

The petition drive gathered 131,000 signatures. That was nearly 40,000 more than they needed to put the issue before voters. But there was a problem: the Legislature passed two voucher bills. Which one---the heart of the matter, or the technical clarification--would be the subject of the vote?

Amid a flurry of legal filings, the matter finally went to the Utah Supreme Court. Justice Michael Wilkinson ruled, "If the voters choose to reject house bill 148, house bill 174 will not create an additional voucher program. If voters choose to accept house bill 148, the amendments of house bill 174 will automatically be applied."

In other words, the question would be a straight up yes or no vote.

It shaped up to be a hard-fought and expensive campaign. In the end, both sides spent more than $3 million, mostly on television ads.

On Election Day, it was a landslide against vouchers. Voter turnout was high and more than 60 percent of the voters said 'no.'

Legislative leaders tell Eyewitness News the voucher issue will not come up in the 2008 session. But voucher proponents are still hopeful that some type of voucher program will exist in Utah some day.

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