Senate shoots down online education bill

SB65 • Foes say "school voucher bill" would cut into funding currently bound for public schools.
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Senators voted down a bill Tuesday that aims to expand online learning opportunities for students by partly redirecting public dollars.

But bill's sponsor Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said he'll likely try to bring the bill back to the floor for another try before the session ends next week.

"This bill would put Utah ahead of all other states in online education," Stephenson said Tuesday before SB65 failed 13-10. Bills must receive at least 15 votes in the Senate to pass.

The bill aims to expand learning opportunities for students by allowing them to take online courses offered by public and private providers to be certified by the state school board. The funding would follow the students, instead of a local district getting all the cash for that student. Providers would receive part of the money upfront and the rest upon a student's completion of the course.

Some bill opponents, however, have called SB65 a "school voucher bill" because it could take money now going to public schools and send it to private providers.

Some senators also have criticized the bill for its price tag. The Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst has estimated the bill would cost a net of more than $700,000 next school year, though it could save the state money after that. It's also estimated millions of dollars that would normally go toward public schools could go to online course providers, depending on how many students enroll in their online courses.

"This is very, very expensive, and we simply cannot afford it at this time — and with all the other things being cut right now — because we already do provide a lot of online classes. Maybe this is something we shouldn't do this year," said Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Salt Lake City.