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HOUSE REJECTS EDUCATION TAX BILL

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The House killed a bill Tuesday that would provide the state's first income-tax credit for private schoolers under local school board option. It rejected the bill on a vote of 46-26.

As drafted, SB61 would enable local school boards to grant certificates redeemable for income tax credits if parents pulled their children out of overcrowded public schools and enrolled them in private schools.The bill was amended in the House to require a one-year pilot program in one school district to be overseen by the Utah Board of Education.

Rep. Jeff Alexander, R-Provo, said the bill was an opportunity for lawmakers to "send authority back to locals. It's an opportunity to help schools manage their growth."

"Nothing happens in this legislation unless a local school board decides this is what it wants," Alex-an-der said.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, would have provided a credit equal to the value of the weighted pupil unit (the state's basic funding formula for public education), set at $1,791 for 1998. The credit would not have applied to students educated in parochial or home schools.

Rep. Jordan Tanner, R-Provo, said passing the bill would be akin to pulling a finger out a dike. "By passing this legislation, we will be opening, literally, a Pandora's box."

Others argued the bill favored the wealthy, because only people who can afford to send their children to private school could take advantage of the tax credit. "We will be creating an institutionalized class system," said Rep. Brad King, R-Price.

King also argued the bill placed rural parents at a disadvantage because there are few private schools in rural Utah and most of them are parochial schools. "There is no choice if there is no alternative," King said.

But Rep. Tammy Rowan, R-Orem, resisted the amendment to require a one-year pilot project, noting her children attend school in overcrowded classrooms.

Temporary classrooms have become permanent fixtures on many school campuses in Utah County, she said. "This is a critical program and cannot wait one more year," Rowan said.

The bill eked out of the Senate last week by a vote of 16-12.