Utah AG orders school board to implement voucher program

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Posted: 3:38 PM- Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has ordered the Utah State Board of Education to implement a school voucher program based on a version of the state's voucher law that critics say leaves Utah vulnerable to a lawsuit.

Hundreds of voucher supporters cheered the news during a rally at the State Capitol complex today. Parents for Choice in Education, the political action committee that lobbied heavily for the program, held the rally to pressure officials to implement vouchers, making voucher applications available to parents starting today.

"The rally, combined with the most senior legal authority in the state, is demanding they implement it," spokeswoman and emcee Leah Barker said.

The Utah State Board of Education opted at its May 3 meeting to seek legal advice before attempting to implement the version of the state's voucher law remaining on Utah's books. That version, which wasn't affected by a successful referendum petition that put the original up for a repeal vote, re-enacts major parts of the voucher legislation but omits key details.

An opinion from Shurtleff's office said a voucher program could be implemented based on the remaining law, referred to as HB174, but that it would be more vulnerable to legal challenges.

The state school board submitted a list of questions last week and requested a second opinion specifically addressing its legal abilities to move forward.

In a response letter mailed Monday, Shurtleff, as the "constitutionally designated sole legal adviser" to the board," wrote in bold type, "it is incumbent upon the Board to implement the voucher program through HB174 immediately!"

State school board member Mark Cluff of Alpine, who supports vouchers, read portions of the letter to the crowd at the rally.

Barker called the rally turnout, which organizers estimated at more than 1,000, "amazing" and "awesome."

Participants included parents, legislators, state school board members and hundreds of private school students sporting pro-voucher buttons and signs.

Utah's school voucher law aims to provide $500 to $3,000 in private tuition assistance for all low-income families and any family not currently enrolled in private school. But the original Parent Choice in Education Act is on hold pending a referendum election in November.

The ballot title and language were submitted to the Lt. Governor's office today by the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel.