Jan 23, 2023 - News

Utah's proposed vouchers won't cover most private schools

Illustration of a golden apple on a stack of books.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

The vast majority of Salt Lake County's private schools cost more than the $8,000 vouchers being proposed in a new bill that's moving through the state Legislature.

Details: The bill calls for $42.5 million to cover tuition and administration for a "Utah Fits All Scholarship Program" — enough for about 5,000 students to get the $8,000.

  • The same bill also gives public school teachers a $6,000 raise.

Why it matters: If vouchers don't cover the cost of private schools, it amounts to a taxpayer subsidy for schools that not all kids can afford to attend.

Driving the news: An Axios analysis of nearly 40 private schools in Salt Lake County shows very few charged less than $8,000 per year in tuition and fees.

  • That includes just eight of 33 private kindergartens whose costs were available, four of 28 elementary and middle schools and no private high schools.
  • Parents would have to kick in more than $1,500 for an eighth grader to attend most of the county's private middle schools and at least $3,600 at all but one of the high schools.

Zoom out: Voucher recipients in Wisconsin, Arizona and New Hampshire were overwhelmingly already attending private school. That means the subsidies mostly went to kids whose families could already afford the tuition.

The latest: Utah's voucher bill, sponsored by Republicans Rep. Candice Pierucci and Sen. Kirk Cullimore, passed the House 54-20 on Friday.

  • It now moves to a Senate committee.

Catch up quick: A similar bill failed in the House last year, and Gov. Spencer Cox said he'd veto it if it passed.

  • Yes, but: Cox said in December he'd be open to signing a voucher bill if public school teachers also got a pay raise, which the new legislation calls for.

Flashback: Legislators last approved vouchers in 2007, but voters later rejected the law in a referendum.

The big picture: Utah is one of at least 10 states considering vouchers this year.

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