Utah House approves school choice bill that also increases teacher pay

A school choice bill passed the Utah House on Friday and now heads to the Republican-led Senate.

HB 215, sponsored by Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, has two main parts: establishing the “Utah Fits All Scholarship Program” and raising salaries and benefits for public educators.

Pierucci described its passage as “a big win for students, parents and teachers!”

According to Utah Fits All – a campaign “committed to ensuring every Utah child finds the education that fits them” – almost three-quarters of Utah parents support school choice.

If approved, HB 215 would establish a scholarship program starting in the 2024-2025 school year offering eligible K-12 students up to $8,000 for tuition or other educational expenses. The program would also prioritize low-income families.  

Additionally, the bill increases salaries and benefits by $6,000, not only for teachers but for all public school staff, including librarians, counselors, psychologists and social workers.  

But despite the clear benefits for public employees, the state teachers’ union – Utah Education Association (UEA) – is still more interested in obstructing school choice than supporting a bill that would help their own union members. 

“The UEA has a long-standing position that any voucher or tuition tax credit slash tax scholarship plan under which private education is subsidized with public tax dollars could weaken the public school system,” said Renée Pinkney, president of UEA.  

“What we’re being asked to do is compromise our values for an increase in teacher compensation,” she concluded.  

In his 2023 State of the State address, Gov. Spencer Cox was noticeably silent on the topic of school choice, though he did urge listeners to invest in teachers.  

But his omission didn’t stop others from showing support for the bill.  

“I used to be against school choice because I never wanted to take anything away from public school teachers,” said Mary Duncan, a teacher at a nonprofit private school, during the public comment.  

“Now I realized that in fact, I would like to take something away from them. I’d like to lighten their load and share in their tremendous workload by taking some of their troubled and struggling students into my own school community to see if we might be a better fit.”