Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A bird's eye view of the surface.

Here's what history tells us.

Rep. Steve Urquhart from St. George introduced the voucher plan in the State House in January, and it passed the House by one vote on Groundhog Day. A week later, the Senate approved it, 19 to 10, and Governor Jon Huntsman signed it into law on February 12. By state law, HB 148 would go into effect 60 days after the last day of the 2007 legislative session.

But within a week, Rep. Brad Last -- also of St. George -- offered a brand new bill to amend the first one, the one already signed into law but not yet in effect. Last's bill, HB 174, sails through both houses and is signed into law by Governor Huntsman on March 6.

A coalition of individuals and organizations opposed to vouchers began collecting signatures to put HB 148 on the ballot. By April 30, it collected more than enough signatures to force the ballot referendum, which meant implementation of HB 148 would be suspended until the voters could speak on November 6.

After two months of legal wrangling, the Utah Supreme Court ruled unanimously on June 8 that the first bill, HB 148/Referendum 1, would be considered the only valid, stand-alone voucher proposal, and that voters would decide on its fate (and the fate of its amendments in HB 174) on November 6.

So we find ourselves examining Referendum 1, which asks whether Utahns are for or against implementing the first statewide voucher system in America.

To make an informed decision, we have to ask some fundamental questions about the proposal.

What will the voucher plan do to Utah? How much will it cost taxpayers, and where will funding come from? Who will benefit from it, and who stands to lose?

What is the goal of the voucher plan? How will vouchers improve the quality of public education in Utah?

Why has no other state adopted a statewide voucher system? How have local voucher plans -- and voucher schools -- worked elsewhere?

Aside from the lawmakers who introduced the bill and voted for its enactment, who is pushing the voucher plan on Utah? And why Utah?