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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Board of Education has called a special meeting for Monday at 7 a.m. to vote on whether to support a bill that would create a school choice scholarship, also being called a school voucher, and increase teacher salaries.
Two people familiar with board makeup tell KSL NewsRadio they believe the votes are there to oppose it, though they were not speaking on behalf of the board.
"It's an unscheduled meeting," Democratic Utah State Board of Education member Carol Lear said. "I think it is in response to the board wanting to be on the record before the Senate votes."
Utah's Senate Education Committee is slated to hear HB215 at 2 p.m. Monday.
The board vote
Lear said she can't be certain until the vote happens, but believes a majority of the 15-member board will vote in opposition. Another source close to the board who spoke to KSL NewsRadio anonymously, agreed.
"We need to have eight (votes) … and I think we will have a majority who oppose it," Lear said.
"I think that if the board as a whole votes to oppose, it signals to the Legislature, whether it makes a difference or not, that the public education oversight body does not support sending public money to private schools, religious schools, (and) schools that don't have the same oversight that public schools do."
Lear also said those who pushed for the chairs to call this special meeting wanted to take this vote to signal to their education partners that they stand with them in opposition.
"(We want to tell) the local Schools Boards Association, PTA, UEA, all of the school districts, superintendents that we stand with you. This will not be a good thing for local schools."
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Candice Pieurcci, R-Herriman, posted a lengthy Twitter thread Saturday arguing her views of the benefits of a scholarship program.
"(It) gives $6,000 directly to teachers in a compensation increase 2. Empowers parents with more options for their child's educational experience by creating the Utah Fits All Scholarship Program. This program is prioritized for students based on need," she wrote.
Yesterday was a historic day for the Utah House with the passage of HB 215! I wanted to clarify a few things and answer questions I've received about the bill.🧵— Candice B. Pierucci (@CandicePierucci) January 21, 2023
⭐️This bill does two important things… pic.twitter.com/8sMbqvxQZG
Objections to the bill
Lear has several objections to the plan.
"The basic consistent objection is private schools will receive public money that should go to public schools," she said. "That's my biggest umbrella objection. I (also) don't like that the teacher salary increase is just being shamelessly connected to the voucher."
Lear also objected to the process the Legislature used to pass it by suspending the rules. She also argues that according to the bill, it gives the board "multiple complicated financial responsibilities" of managing and overseeing the scholarship program "with no discussion, zero discussion with USBE," she said.
"It could be the board is being set up to crash and burn in terms of oversight," she said.
She also argued the bill allows for discrimination when determining who is prioritized to receive a scholarship.
"The only nondiscrimination measure in (the bill) only prohibits discrimination based on race, color, and national origin," she said.
"They can discriminate against kids with disabilities, poor kids, based on gender, they could theoretically take all boys and no girls," she said. "They can discriminate against kids who have minor disciplinary problems and kids who have none at all."
The Utah State Board of Education meeting agenda lists one action item for Monday's meeting.
"The board will consider its support of legislation or recommendations to bill sponsors for amendments."