Forty-nine percent of Utahns support using tax dollars for private education options, a new poll conducted for the Deseret News and Hinckley Institute of Politics shows.

The results also indicate that 45% of Utahns oppose using tax dollars for private education choices and 6% don’t know, suggesting there is more support than opposition but not a clear mandate for the policy change adopted by state lawmakers with the passage of HB215.

Sponsored by Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Riverton, the bill created the Utah Fits All Scholarship, which can be used for education expenses such as curriculum, textbooks, education software, tutoring services, micro-school teacher salaries and private school tuition.

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State funding for the program’s inaugural year is capped at $42 million, which will provide a qualifying student an $8,000 scholarship annually. The scholarship program can serve close to 5,000 students when it launches in the 2024-2025 school year.

The bill, which also provided licensed educators a $6,000 pay raise, passed by a two-thirds margin in each legislative house, which means it cannot be challenged by public referendum. HB215 reached final passage in the Utah Senate on Jan. 26 and was swiftly signed into law by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox.

HB215 represents a significant shift in Utah education policy because it expands the use of public money for private education choices far beyond existing programs for families of children with disabilities.

In 2007, 62% of Utah voters repealed a school voucher law passed by state lawmakers earlier that year. A multimillion-dollar political campaign pitted teachers’ unions nationally against school choice advocates.

No universal choice legislation had passed the legislature in succeeding years until lawmakers approved HB215.

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Pierucci, addressing the House Education Committee, said disruptions in education due to the pandemic “highlighted that a one-size-fits-all approach to education doesn’t work for every child.”

Although Pierucci said she thrived in Utah’s public education system, other family members would have benefitted from a more individualized approach.

“I believe that supporting education means supporting the best approach for educating each individual child in our state,” she said.

Opponents said tax dollars should support public education, not private education choices.

The Utah Senate Democrats, after the bill’s passage, said in a statement, “HB215 fails to support students and weakens public education by redirecting public funds to private institutions without any safeguards, protections against discrimination and transparency.”

According to poll results, the highest levels of support for the legislation were among respondents who self-identified as “very conservative.” Fifty-seven percent said they strongly supported the plan while 17% said they somewhat support it.

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Among Republicans in the survey, 55% favor using tax dollars for private education, while 40% oppose it. Among Democrats, 33% support the bill, while 60% oppose it.

Other groups indicating strong support were “very active” members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, nonwhites and people whose household incomes are $150,000 annually and above.

The lowest levels of support were among people with post graduate-level educations, those stating no religious preference and those who described themselves as very liberal.

The poll of 802 Utahns was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates Jan. 23-30. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.

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