Both advocates and opponents of school vouchers turned out in force for a forum discussion of what has become one of Utah’s most controversial issues, held at UVSC on Oct. 3.
More than a hundred people attended the forum, hosted by the Ethics Center, to hear panel members Patrick Byrne, Marilyn Kofford, Paul Mero and Kim Burningham debate over the school voucher program.
The program would give income-based amounts of money to parents wanting to enroll their children in private school, and the controversy surrounding it has drawn attention from the national media.
Byrne, the president of Overstock.com, argued that Utah’s current education system is a monopoly. "They do not want Utah parents to have choice," he said.
"We want choice," said Kim Burningham, a former Utah state legislator and member of the Utah State Board of Education, "but we want choice for every child in the public school system."
"The option of private schools is not even an option for many, many students in this state," he said. Burningham argued that factors such as the location, selectivity and cost of private schools would make it difficult for many Utah students to attend them, if they wanted to.
Kofford, a former Utah PTA commissioner, said vouchers are not the answer for students having difficulties learning in public school. "A struggling student will be a struggling student, in a public school or a private school. As a parent, you have to do all you can to help that struggling student," she said.
Mero, the president of the Sutherland Institute, a local think tank, argued that the opportunity to attend private schools would help students and parents, especially when it comes to Utah’s minority students.
"HB148 is about helping these kids," Mero said. "What they need is a new opportunity. They need hope. They need a new start that empowers their parents to be involved in their lives."
Utah residents will have the opportunity to vote on the school voucher issue in the Nov. 6 election.
For more information, pick up a voting pamphlet at a College Times newsstand, or visit www.elections.utah.gov