There is just too much about the possible consequences of HB123 that we don't know, and can't know unless it's given thorough study. The bill would completely reshape how Utah high schools are funded by giving juniors and seniors the money that otherwise would go to the high schools they attend.
The money $6,400 per student, or 120 percent of the value of the Weighted Pupil Unit for high school students would go into individual savings accounts. Students could choose to spend it to attend public school, including charter schools; to take courses online; go to a public college or certain private, nonprofit colleges; or take classes from a private high school under contract with the State Board of Education.
The fiscal note attached to a substitute HB123 indicates the state education fund would lose $1.5 million on a pilot program involving just 500 students. What the eventual cost to schools might be if the bill were ever applied to all students in Utah high schools, as sponsor Rep. John Dougall first proposed, is staggering.
The original bill would have applied to all Utah ninth- through 12th-graders starting in the 2012-2013 school year.
Obviously, Dougall, a Republican from American Fork, did not give his bill sufficient thought before introducing it. First, it would be next to impossible for school districts to implement such a sweeping and complicated new system in just a few months. Dougall must believe he has only to wave his legislator's wand and viola! school districts can magically do his bidding on the shoestring budget the Legislature provides.
Second, although he naively believes putting high school students in charge of millions of dollars of taxpayer money reserved to educate all Utah children would somehow work better than the current system, he offers no details to explain his assumption.
Dougall merely spouts hard-right ideology about public schools: that families should have the freedom to take state funds and get their children educated elsewhere almost anywhere else, in fact.
He and many Republicans would like nothing better than to privatize education. But they are dead wrong, both in philosophy and, in the case of this bill, in the specifics. Public education is necessary for a representative republic like the one in which we live to operate well.
At the very least, this bill needs far more study than it has so far received. Killing it outright would be better still.