Tuition Tax Credits Bill Fails

Tuition Tax Credits Bill Fails

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The tuition tax credits bill has died for this session without making it to the House floor, according to its sponsor.

"It's history," Rep. Jim Ferrin, R-Orem, said Monday just a few hours before the House debated its last House bill.

"I would have loved to have (had) a meaningful discussion (on the House floor) about public education finance, which is really what tuition tax credits are all about," Ferrin said. "I am very disappointed over that."

Parents for Choice in Education had had HB271 among its top three priorities.

"The families of Utah want and deserve parental choice, and it's unfortunate the education establishment is so willing to oppose what so many Utahns want," said Royce Van Tassell of Parents for Choice in Education.

Utah Education Association President Pat Rusk wants to wait until the bill is officially buried before celebrating.

"We hope that that's true, but we will be watching to the final moments," said Rusk, adding she's seen supposedly dead bills resurrected in the final hours of past legislative sessions.

HB271 would have offered a tax credit worth half a child's private school tuition, with a maximum credit of $1,500 for kindergartners and $2,000 for older students. Students already in private schools, dual enrolled in public schools and next fall's kindergartners would have been ineligible.

The bill would have saved the state $3.5 million in the first year, according to the legislative fiscal analyst's office. Critics didn't believe it, and the bill would have set up a $5.5 million bailout fund in case school districts were financially harmed by the measure.

Ferrin claimed the bill would have enticed families to choose private school, easing the coming growth boom -- estimated at some 140,000 new students in 10 years -- on the public school system.

Public school leaders and teacher unions said the bill's fiscal impact projection was overly optimistic.

Some said studies showed such tax credit programs overwhelmingly benefit those who would have gone off to private schools anyway.

Two weeks ago, the bill passed the House Judiciary Standing Committee, but the House voted to refuse to accept the committee report, putting the bill in limbo.

"I just didn't think there were the votes," said House Majority Leader Greg Curtis, R-Sandy.

Gov. Olene Walker hinted at a veto. She has indicated she would not support tuition tax credits until public schools were adequately funded.

Utah public schools now receive the least per student in the country, and the state's average per-student spending actually decreased last school year, according to state Office of Education data.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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