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Oppose HB332: Special Needs Scholarship Amendments

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HB332: Special Needs Scholarship Amendments, sponsored by Rep. Mike Schultz, shifts public money to private schools through a voucher-like scholarship program using income tax credits. It requires the State Board of Education to oversee the program, including the selection of a scholarship granting organization. It creates a nonrefundable corporate or individual income tax credit for certain program donations.

UEA’s Position: OPPOSE

The UEA opposes House Bill 332 for the following reasons:

  • HB332 diverts funds away from school districts to private providers with little taxpayer accountability just as SCHOOL VOUCHERS would have done. (Vouchers were resoundingly defeated by voters.)
  • There are already challenges funding district and charter schools, there is no need to add a third system. Ninety-five percent of Utah parents choose public schools.
  • HB332 creates new work for the State Board of Education without funding. Under provisions of the bill, USBE must:
    • Qualify students for the scholarships;
    • Qualify schools for the program;
    • Conduct background checks on each scholarship-granting organization officer and employee;
    • Provide a tax credit certificate form for use by the scholarship granting organizations;
    • Conduct the proposal process (RFP) for the scholarship granting organization; and
    • Monitor and audit the scholarship granting organization.
  • Private schools may deny student admission for any reason and require parents to waive their federal IDEA (special education law) rights.
  • HB332 ignores students in rural areas where private schools do not exist.
  • HB322 is the wrong way to fund special education. The legislature should fund the public education system for the benefit of ALL students, including those with special needs, rather than shifting funds to private providers.
- Printable version of this Issue Brief


Legislature narrowly passes controversial scholarship bill – April 24, 2020

Despite UEA and classroom educators raising objections about the necessity of passing a voucher-like special needs scholarship bill during an online-only special session, the legislature passed HB4003: Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program by the narrowest of margins. More legislators actually voted in opposition to the “revised” bill than voted against the original HB332: Special Needs Scholarship Amendments, which was vetoed by the Governor. However, the House ended up passing the bill on a vote of 40-34 and the Senate on a vote of 15-14.

The approved bill is a compromise between the legislature and Governor Gary Herbert. While an improvement over House Bill 332, the UEA still opposed House Bill 4003. The Governor is expected to sign the bill.


Legislature introduces new voucher-like scholarship bill in Special Session – April 22, 2020

The Utah legislature won’t quit in attempts to create a scholarship program that shuffles public funding to private schools, similar to a school voucher. During the 2020 General Session, the legislature passed House Bill 332: Special Needs Scholarship Amendments. That bill was vetoed by Governor Herbert, largely in response to opposition from the UEA and other education stakeholders.

Rather than attempt a veto override, legislative leaders worked with the governor to create an entirely new bill. House Bill 4003: Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program will be considered during a Special Session of the legislature on Thursday, April 23. While an improvement over House Bill 332, the UEA still opposes House Bill 4003.

UEA President Heidi Matthews expressed opposition to the new bill in a letter to Utah legislators“At this moment of economic uncertainty, it would be irresponsible for the Legislature to create a multi-million dollar tax credit program without knowing how state budgets will be impacted by the COVID-19 crisis,” she wrote. “A special needs scholarship is neither related to the effective state management of the COVID-19 crisis, nor is the creation of such a program an emergency that must be addressed during a special session. If the Legislature wishes to pursue the creation of a special needs scholarship, it should be addressed during the 2021 General Session.”


Governor vetoes voucher-like bill – April 2, 2020

In a letter to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, UEA President Heidi Matthews called House Bill 332, “a bill that we believe is poor policy for public education.” The Utah School Boards Association, the Utah Superintendents Association, the Utah PTA and the Utah State Board of Education all opposed the bill.

Late on April 1, the last day to either sign or veto bills, Gov. Herbert vetoed the bill.

“I am concerned that the narrative surrounding this bill was about removing students with special needs out of the public education system, rather than supporting our students within their community schools,” Herbert wrote. “While it is helpful to provide options for students with special needs, special education federal law and best practice require that children with special needs be served whenever possible in an inclusive environment, alongside their typically developing peers.”

HB332 (3rd sub): Special Needs Scholarship Amendments shifts public money to private schools and providers through a voucher-like scholarship program using income tax credits and with little accountability to taxpayers. The legislation also ignores students in rural areas where private schools do not exist while subsidizing urban and suburban families.

“We opposed the original bill and substitutes,” wrote Matthews in the letter to Gov. Herbert. “Although substitutes improved the substance of the bill, they did not address the fundamental problem of funding private schools and private providers with public dollars. Voters resoundingly defeated vouchers in 2007 and we believe that the bipartisan opposition to HB332 in both the House and the Senate indicate the divisive nature of this program."


UEA asks Governor to veto voucher-like bill – March 19, 2020

On behalf of the UEA, UEA President Heidi Matthews sent a letter to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert requesting a veto on House Bill 332, “a bill that we believe is poor policy for public education.”

HB332 (3rd sub): Special Needs Scholarship Amendments shifts public money to private schools and providers through a voucher-like scholarship program using income tax credits and with little accountability to taxpayers. The legislation also ignores students in rural areas where private schools do not exist while subsidizing urban and suburban families.

“We opposed the original bill and substitutes,” wrote Matthews in the letter to Gov. Herbert. “Although substitutes improved the substance of the bill, they did not address the fundamental problem of funding private schools and private providers with public dollars. Voters resoundingly defeated vouchers in 2007 and we believe that the bipartisan opposition to HB332 in both the House and the Senate indicate the divisive nature of this program.”


New voucher scheme on the way to the Governor – March 11, 2020

HB332: Special Needs Scholarship Amendments shifts public money to private schools through a voucher-like scholarship program using income tax credits. ‘Scholarship Granting Organizations’ can make tax-deductible donations to provide ‘scholarships’ for students with IEP’s to attend private schools under the program. The UEA opposes this bill (see more about the UEA’s position). The bill passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously and the Senate on a vote of 17-12. It now goes to the Governor to determine if the new bill becomes law.


Private school voucher bill passes the House – March 5, 2020

HB332: Special Needs Scholarship Amendments would create the Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program and provide an income tax credit. The UEA strongly opposes this bill because it operates like a voucher, taking money from the education fund and sending it to private schools with little taxpayer accountability. The bill passed the House on a vote of 46-24 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.


Private school voucher bill passes House committee – February 21, 2020

They're back! HB332: Special Needs Scholarship Amendments would create the Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program and provide an income tax credit. The UEA strongly opposes this bill because it operates like a voucher, taking money from the education fund and sending it to private schools with little taxpayer accountability. The bill based the House Revenue and Taxation Committee on a vote of 9-2. It now goes to the full House for consideration.