SANDY, Utah -- At the Gingerbread Antiques shop, a solid stream of customers have one thing on their minds -- and it's not antiques.Shortly after the legislative session ended Feb. 28, public education advocates filed a petition seeking to put the school voucher issue before voters. They have until April 9 to collect about 92,000 signatures, and are doing it one neighbor, one customer and one parent at a time. At the Gingerbread Antiques shop, owner Penny McLaughlin barely has time to run her store because so many people are coming in to sign a petition as word about the referendum spreads.
"I don't think we should be using tax money for (education) vouchers," said Joann Sorensen, who has grandchildren in public schools and signed a petition at the store seeking to repeal a new law giving parents between $500 and $3,000 per child for private school tuition. "It would be better if the money went to public education."
Utah's school voucher program is the only universal school voucher program in the country. Even affluent families qualify. Voucher programs in other states target low-income families or students attending poorly performing schools.
Nearly every education organization in the state opposed the measure, saying lawmakers should focus on improving public schools instead of funding private ones. Utah has the nation's largest class sizes and spends less per student than any other state.
"I'm not able to get anything done," she said, as two more customers asked to sign.
Voucher proponents contend McLaughlin and others are wasting their time. That's because the Legislature amended the bill the public education advocates are seeking to repeal. Confusion exists between the two groups whether the school voucher program could exist if the original bill is repealed. But it may not matter.
If enough signatures are collected, money for the voucher program wouldn't be available until the issue is decided next year, effectively neutering the program and denying families the ability to use vouchers this fall. . . .