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Opinion: Salt Lake City NAACP opposed bill that disproportionately affects students of color

HB215, a bill that passed in the 2023 legislative session, allows for public education funds to be used for private schools including religious schools or homeschool

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East High School student Fadumo Aden has fun painting a rock that has a kind message on it in Salt Lake City.

East High School student Fadumo Aden has fun painting a rock that has a kind message on it in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023. Students participated in the community outreach project focused on kindness.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The Salt Lake City Branch of the NAACP strongly opposed HB215, which diverts public funds from public schools for use in private schools, including religious schools, or for home-schooling. Public education is a bedrock of democracy and is crucial to ensuring all children have the tools and resources to have productive and successful futures. Public education provides vital educational services to our kids — without it, only the most advantaged children will have the opportunity to obtain a quality education. Private schools, especially private religious schools, should not receive taxpayer dollars to fund student tuition. Vouchers create a funding scheme that cuts against the separation of church and state and dilutes the school funding for our public schools. 

Reallocating public school funds to private schools disproportionately affects Black students and other students of color. In Salt Lake City School District, for example, the majority of the students enrolled in the school district are students of color, while more than 72% of the city is white. In Utah as a whole, the public schools are substantially more diverse than the state’s overall population. Nearly 30% of students in public K-12 schools are students of color and four school districts, including Granite, Ogden, Salt Lake and San Juan, are now majority-minority. HB215’s voucher program harms Black students and students of color by pulling financial resources from their schools and instead giving taxpayer funds to private schools, religious schools and home-schooling parents. Black students and other students of color will suffer the brunt of the damage that HB215 will do to public education in Utah.

The Salt Lake City NAACP has worked tirelessly for years to oppose the reallocation of public funds to private schools, particularly as part of its effort to support a 2007 referendum that resulted in 62% of voters in 27 of 29 counties coming out in opposition to school vouchers. 

Despite the clear mandate from Utah’s voters that public funds should be reserved for the support of the state’s public schools, the Utah Legislature pushed HB215 through against the wishes of the voters by tying school vouchers to teacher raises.

And while we wholeheartedly support raises for public school teachers, who work tirelessly to ensure our children receive a quality education, those raises should not be tied to the removal of taxpayer funds to support private schools. Our teachers deserve our support, but pulling funding from the public schools to support private schools is not supportive of teachers or students in our public schools.

HB215’s voucher program lacks accountability for the use of these funds and improperly takes public funds from Utah’s public schools, which already ranks 50th out of 50 states plus Washington, D.C., in per pupil spending, according to the National Education Association’s 2022 report. The Salt Lake City NAACP strongly opposed HB215 and asks the Utah Legislature and the governor to reconsider its disregard for public education. Our kids deserve better. 

Jeanetta Williams is the president of the Salt Lake City Branch of the NAACP.