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UEA altering tax-credit ad

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The Utah Education Association is editing a Pinocchio reference out of its anti-tuition tax credit ad after raising the ire of at least two legislators, including House Speaker Marty Stephens.

Rep. Jim Ferrin, R-Orem, wrote the UEA Saturday to denounce the radio ads as a "slur against honest, intelligent men and women in public service with whom you disagree."

Stephens, R-Farr West, canceled weekly meetings with leaders of the 19,000-member teachers union because another ad alludes to a textbook shortage. Legislators last year, under a bill Stephens sponsored, came up with $23.8 million to replenish schools' textbook supplies.

"I just feel the ads are dishonest and unfair. I'm pulling back my invitation to meet on a weekly basis if that's how they choose to run their affairs," Stephens said Monday. "I held a hand out and got bit, so I'm pulling it back."

The ads are intended to show the cons of implementing tuition tax credits, which will be proposed in a bill sponsored by Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan. The bill, which is still in the works, could offer Utah parents a $2,100 tax credit for private school tuition.

Buttars believes the measure would increase per-student spending (an amount equal to the credit amount would remain in the system), as well as open school choice to low-income families and relieve crowded classrooms.

Public education circles from the PTA to the superintendents association think the opposite would happen and have made their concerns well known.

"We have no intention of pulling our ads because they tell the truth as we see it," Sorensen said. But the union will cut out the "wooden boy" reference, which some say implies tax credit supporters are lying.

"We're willing to make that concession," she said. "If it's that offensive, we don't want to jeopardize the whole process."

Two ads have aired on three AM radio stations for the past 10 days. They're scheduled to continue through Friday.

One states: "You might have been hearing lately about tuition tax credits, how it will ease the strain on the public school system? Well, little wooden boys with growing noses can't be trusted. . . . In the end, tuition tax credits reward parents who can already afford private school tuition while draining the public school system of much-needed funds to insure the quality education for 97 percent of Utah's students."

The other begins with a teacher instructing class members to open their science books. "Now everyone, we have four textbooks, so we should have four groups. . . . Today we're studying how the world is flat."

It continues: "Concerned about the quality and future of your child's education? Well, you should be. The proposed tuition tax credit legislation takes tax dollars from the Utah public school system to subsidize tuition for students attending private and religious schools. This reduces the funding for current, up-to-date textbooks and reduces the quality of teaching and learning for the 97 percent of Utah students in public schools."

The ads were intended to illustrate the downsides of the credits with humor, UEA leaders say.

But some legislators aren't laughing. Ferrin asked the union to pull its ads. Stephens says the union might oppose the credits but wonders what textbooks have to do with it. He takes the reference, which will remain intact, personally.

"As an olive branch going into this session . . . I agreed to meet with them on a weekly basis," a gesture afforded to no groups outside his leadership team, Stephens said.

The 2001 Legislature passed a law barring public employees from having political action committee donations deducted from their paychecks. Bill supporters, which included Stephens, said government should not gather political contributions. The UEA saw the bill as retaliation for a job action.

E-MAIL: jtcook@desnews.com