Archives for category: Utah

Michael Hiltzik, columnist for the Los Angeles Times, is furious at Spencer Cox, Governor of Utah. Last year, Cox vetoed a bill intended to bar four (4) trans athletes from participating in women’s high school sports. At the time, Hiltzik praised him for his “compassion.”But he just signed an even worse law. Hypocrite!

Hiltzik writes:

Back on March 22, Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox took a stand against anti-transgender legislation that was rare — indeed, unique — among Republican politicians by vetoing a harsh anti-transgender bill passed by the Legislature.

“I always try to err on the side of kindness, mercy and compassion,” Cox wrote in his veto message on the law designated HB 11. He noted that the measure, which prohibited transgender girls from participating in school sports that match their gender identities, was directed at four transgender students out of the 75,000 student athletes in Utah.

“Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few,” he stated.

On Saturday, Cox climbed down from his principled position by signing a vastly harsher law.

The 2023 Utah Legislature’s SB 16 doesn’t target transgender youths participating in school sports. It’s much, much broader — a comprehensive ban on providing any gender-affirming medical care to most transgender minors, including hormone therapy.

SB 16 is a “brutally unfair” law that bans “the only safe and effective treatment for many children with gender dysphoria,” says Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is already preparing a lawsuit challenging the law in partnership with the Utah ACLU.

How does one judge the character of politicians? One way is to see if they stand up for principle in the face of intense political pressure.

By that measure, Cox is a spectacular failure. We can go further: He’s rewritten the dictionary definition of “political hypocrisy.”

Cox explained his March 2022 veto of HB 11 in a five-page, closely reasoned letter to the legislative leaders, who responded by overriding his veto.

His signing statement for the new law runs a crisp 128 words and calls the measure a “nuanced and thoughtful approach.”

Before examining whether that’s a fair description of one of the harshest pieces of anti-transgender legislation in the country, let’s look at the political context — that is, the snarling, mercilessly malevolent approach of Republican politicians to transgender people.

Since the Trump years and up to the present day, Republicans have been trying to roll back anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. But they’ve especially targeted the transgender community.

The reason isn’t hard to discern. In their crass and cruel quest for targets to unite their base against, they had run out of acceptable candidates for discrimination and abuse.

Open racism was no longer socially acceptable (though it has made a strong comeback lately, in Trump’s wake). It is no longer respectable to make fun of the mentally ill, the homeless, the disabled.

Republicans would like to target LGBT people, but too many Republicans have gay friends and family. They would like to be openly racist, but that’s not socially acceptable. So that leaves transgender people as the Menace Terrorizing Our Community.

Some states, like Idaho, have criminalized gender-affirming care. Others, like Texas, threaten to investigate parents for child abuse if they seek medical intervention.

For a moment in political time, Cox stood against the tide of malignant bigotry that defined the GOP’s approach to LGBTQ rights. At the time, I praised him and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb(who also vetoed an anti-transgender law) for their principled stances, which I took as evidence that the Republican Party had not completely thrown in with its worst instincts.

Alas. Now it turns out that Cox has allowed that tide to wash over him.

The law, says Reed, “will effectively end gender-affirming care for transgender youth in the state of Utah.” The law went into effect immediately with Cox’s signature, “before any veto campaign could be mounted and before families could make preparations,” Reed noted.

In his 2022 veto message, Cox wrote sympathetically of the challenges faced by the four transgender schoolchildren playing team sports in Utah — “four kids who are just trying to find some friends and feel like they are a part of something. Four kids trying to get through each day.”

He paid attention to research finding that 86% of trans youth reported suicidal thoughts and 56% hadattempted suicide. “I want them to live,” he said. “And all the research shows that even a little acceptance and connection can reduce suicidality significantly.”

But then he signed a bill ending gender-affirming care for those four kids. Cox is back in the Republican mainstream.

In a taped conversation, a lobbyist for vouchers in Utah said what everyone suspected: “I can’t say this is a recall of public education, even though I want to destroy public education. I can’t say that. The Legislature can’t say that because they’ll be just scraped over the coals.”

She said the quiet part out loud.

She was supposed to say that vouchers would give every child a chance to get a better education.

She forgot to say that vouchers would enable EVERY child to get a great education “regardless of their zip code.”

She forgot her talking points.

She said what she and her team say when there are no reporters or recorders around. The goal is “to destroy public education.”

When the story was published, the lobbyist apologized for saying what she believed.

Utah’s House passed a voucher bill, even though the state voted against them by 62-38% in 2007. Republicans in Utah are determined to bypass a referendum, as they are in other states, because voters have never passed one. Voters don’t want to defund their public schools.

You can bet that 70-80% of the students who get vouchers are already enrolled in private religious schools. That’s the proportion reported in every state that has vouchers. The small number who ask for vouchers will lose ground academically and eventually return to their local public school. The research is unequivocal: vouchers do NOT improve academic achievement. They are a gift to parents whose kids are already in private schools.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports:

Report an ad

Utah House pushes through controversial voucher bill after suspending rules

HB215 would allow taxpayer funds to be spent on private schooling and home schooling. The largest teachers union in the state is opposed. 

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Riverton, sponsor of HB215, is pictured on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. Her bill was approved by the House on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, after less than 24 hours of consideration.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Riverton, sponsor of HB215, is pictured on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. Her bill was approved by the House on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, after less than 24 hours of consideration.

By Courtney Tanner

A controversial bill to create a taxpayer-funded, $42 million school voucher program in Utah — the most expansive in state history — was pushed through the House on Friday under suspended rules that allowed lawmakers to approve it without the required wait time.

The Republican-led proposal was approved on a 54-20 vote that came during the final minutes of floor time of the first week of what’s already shaped up to be a fast and wild legislative session.

“This is the beginning of us reinventing public education in Utah,” declared Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, the sponsor of HB215.

The bill sets up what Pierucci has called the “Utah Fits All Scholarship” that would allow students to use public money to attend private schools or be home-schooled. It’s touted as a way to give parents and kids more choice in education.

Pierucci’s proposal also includes an ongoing $6,000 salary and benefits raise for teachers across the state — made contingent on approving the vouchers.

The measure is opposed by the largest teachers union in Utah, which has said educators feel devalued by having their paycheck tied to a voucher program many don’t support and many worry will further hobble Utah’s public schools. Per pupil funding in the state is already among the lowest in the nation, passing only Idaho.

An attempt by Democratic Rep. Angela Romero of Salt Lake City to split the bill into two was voted down Friday by the conservative-majority body. Romero argued that teacher raises shouldn’t be a bargaining chip to pass other policies.

“I think these are two different issues, and they need to be discussed in two different bills,” she said.

Democrats and a few Republicans stood with her, including Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield. He called it “disingenuous” to connect the issues as a way to force support.

But Rep. Douglas Welton, R-Payson, who is a public school teacher, voted in favor of the bill with the raises — even after calling it “one of the biggest bribes.” He said he’d like to see more work done before any final passage of the bill, which will go next to the Senate.

The vote to pass the bill Friday was supported only by Republican lawmakers. All 13 Democrats in the House, along with seven Republicans, voted to oppose. Still, the vote was enough to represent two-thirds of the body. If the bill passes with the same margin in the Senate, it’s secure from both a veto or referendum.

Pierucci has insisted on the two issues of teacher pay and vouchers remaining together as a funding package. She believes it shows that even though the state wants students to be able to explore other education options, it also still supports public school educators; she talked about her own experience growing up attending public schools in Utah.

After the bill passed in committee late Thursday, she made a few changes before it was heard on the House floor Friday morning.

Her amended bill capped the amount allocated each year for the program at $42 million, instead of allowing it to grow with the annual adjustments to the weighted pupil unit amount, or WPU — which has caused problems in other states with similar programs. The WPU here, which is currently set at about $4,000, is what each public school is given by the state for each child enrolled there (not counting additional add-ons for students with disabilities).

But Pierucci didn’t change the amount her scholarship would allocate per student, which has been a source of heartburn. The Utah Fits All Scholarship is an $8,000 award — which is double the WPU set by the state.

Pierucci said she arrived at the figure by combining the roughly $4,000 WPU with the average amount spent by each Utah school district on students, which is about another $4,000. That second portion is collected locally, through property taxes, and is subject to local control and decision making on how to spend it.

Some have argued that isn’t a fair setup and values the scholarship students more than those who elect for public schools. And for every student who leaves a public school to enroll elsewhere, they said, the school no longer gets their WPU and essentially loses funding and state support.

Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, said she doesn’t believe the bill supports low-income families, as Pierucci has argued.

Pierucci says students in households living below the poverty line will be prioritized for the scholarship.

But Hollins said many of those families wouldn’t be able to use it anyway because they don’t have the transportation to go to a private school and wouldn’t be able to pay the difference between the scholarship and private school tuition. The average tuition at a private school in Utah is roughly $11,000 a year.

“It doesn’t give every student equal access,” Hollins said, noting people in her district are choosing between paying for the bus to go to work, buying new shoes and keeping the lights on.

Others said they were worried about sending public dollars to private institutions that have no requirements by the state to hire licensed teachers or to teach a set curriculum. Most of the schools are religious. And there’s no obligation for private schools to help students with disabilities.

“Because it’s public money it should go to public schools,” which are held publicly accountable, said Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, a former public school teacher.

The biggest concern raised by the largely Democratic opposition, though, was the rush to vote on the bill. The rules in the House typically require a bill to be on the calendar for 24 hours before a vote, giving lawmakers a chance to read through it before debate. It was only 19 hours after the bill passed in committee that the full House voted on it Friday, after suspending the rules.

The most recent draft with Pierucci’s amendments “was numbered at 10:00 this morning, introduced and debated under suspension of the rules at 11:15, and passed at about 12:30. For no good reason,” wrote Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, on Twitter after the vote.

He added: “Voting by an informed body and public could just as easily have been done Monday morning. #abuseofpower”

Pierucci and others, though, said it was largely the same bill with a few small changes that she’d been working on this week — and had tried to pass last year but failed.

The other changes she made include allowing a student to attend public school part time and then get a partial scholarship to get private tutoring or do home schooling for the remainder.

Rep. Karen Peterson, R-Clinton, said she liked that addition, suggesting it opened up the scholarship to more students living in rural areas that might not have access to a nearby private school (most of those are concentrated on the Wasatch Front).

The other change was what Pierucci is calling an added “accountability measure.” In the original bill, the test scores of students leaving public schools for private schools was not allowed to be tracked. Opponents wanted that provision to be able to study the success of the program.

In the version passed Friday, students on the scholarship have the option to take an assessment at the end of the year or submit a portfolio of their work in school to the scholarship administrator as proof of their education. Peterson believes that will help see if the vouchers “move the needle.” Others said it wasn’t strong enough.

Peterson said the bill supports the Republican values of creating choices and a competitive market for schools. And she likes the “guardrails,” too, for the administrator that will oversee the program.

Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, agreed, adding that in recent years he’s talked to parents with concerns about the books being taught in public schools — which he ran legislation on last year. And he didn’t like that schools required masking at times during the pandemic and feels parents should have a choice outside of that.

Pierucci said her impetus has been the COVID-19 pandemic, which she said proved to her that not all students thrive in public schools.

“The last couple of years,” she said, “have highlighted that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for every child.”


Just when you thought you had heard every twist and turn in Charter World, along comes another bizarre story. The Utah State Charter Board ordered the replacement of every member of a polygamy charter school.

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (KUTV) — In a dramatic move, the Utah State Charter School Board ordered Vanguard Academy to replace all seven members of its school board. In addition, the USBE will appoint a temporary director to work with the current director.

Vanguard is affiliated with the Kingston polygamist group, known as “The Order.” In a 2020 investigation, Crisis in the Classroom revealed the school regularly hires Kingston-connected businesses and pays them with taxpayer dollars. We found the board is made up almost entirely of Kingston family members. We also found that a Kingston-related business owner won the school’s lucrative contract to feed the students.

The Idaho legislature overwhelmingly approved a bill to drop requirements for new teachers, leaving it to districts to write their own standards.

In Idaho, anyone can teach so long as they have a BA degree, pass a criminal background check, and don’t have an infectious disease.

In short, teaching in Idaho is no longer a profession. The charter industry considers this a victory.

State Senator Lincoln Fillmore is very worried about the teaching of “critical race theory,” although there is no evidence that anyone is teaching it in Utah schools. He is calling for a law requiring social studies teachers to post their daily lesson plans online, so parents and other concerned members of the community can scrutinize them. Teachers are rightly furious.

A Utah lawmaker wants to require that all materials for social science classes in K-12 be vetted and posted online for parents to review in advance — and teachers are pushing back.

Educators say the proposal shows a lack of trust in their judgment. They call it micromanaging. Some argue that it will hamper their ability to teach students about what’s happening in the world in real time. One called it a “classic witch hunt.”

“The ‘witches’ are social studies teachers who dare discuss current events,” said Deborah Gatrell, a teacher at Hunter High in Granite School District, in a post about her concerns.

The controversial idea comes Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, as a continuation of the effort by conservative Utah leaders to control what’s being taught about history in the classroom. Fillmore was also the Senate sponsor on the bill last session that banned discussion of critical race theory in public schools in the state.

Marilee Coles-Ritchie is a teacher educator in Utah. She wrote this advice for her fellow educators and other concerned citizens in Utah but it is good advice for everyone.

Here are her recommendations:

1. Decrease standardized tests. They harm students who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

2. Increase the numbers of teachers from these groups across the schools.

3. Eliminate all police officers in schools. Restorative justice empowers students to resolve conflicts on their own and in small groups. This strengthens school communities, prevents bullying, and reduces student conflicts. Early adoption has shown drastic reductions in suspension rates, and students report feeling more welcome, safe, and calm.

4. Require all students to take at least one course of history and literature of these groups.

5. Increase linguistic and cultural appreciation in all schools, diversifying the voices that are represented in the curriculum, with a goal of equity and inclusion.

Listening to educators and the state school board, Governor Gary Herbert vetoed a voucher program for students with special needs.

Critics pointed out that the state has had a. Oh her program for students with special needs for 15 years and doesn’t need another one. They also noted that Utah had a state referendum in 2007, and the public voted overwhelmingly against vouchers.

The voucher advocates always begin their campaign by seeking vouchers for children with special needs, even though private schools receiving vouchers are exempt from the federal protections for these students. In this case, Utah has long had such a program. But in other states, such as Florida and Arizona, ouches for students with disabilities is the prelude to many more requests, each targeted to a new group. The ultimate goal is universal vouchers, with no limitations. The size of the voucher is always far less than the tuition at high-quality private schools, but a much-welcome subsidy for those already enrolled in religious schools.

Charter enrollment declined in Utah for the first time in at least a decade, and no new charters opened.

Enrollment at Utah’s charter schools — which have seen explosive growth in the past as they’ve attempted to be “education’s disruptors” — declined this year for the first time in at least a decade.

The dip is largely unexpected but follows a particularly chaotic year for charters in the state. One was forced to close with millions in debts owed to overseas investors. Another filed for bankruptcy. A third was ordered to shut down after less than two years in operation…

In addition to some schools closing, no new charters opened this fall — which is also a first in the state for at least a decade, Peterson added, and likely contributed to the enrollment decline. Two or three were slated to enroll students in August but pushed back their starting dates over lease, land and building issues.

Royce Van Tassell, executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools, said the price of land has gone up in Utah and has put new charters in a challenging spot…

Van Tassell also pointed to the closure of the American International School of Utah, or AISU, for the dip. The Murray charter shut its doors in August in the face of mounting debts. The school owed the state and federal government nearly half a million dollars in misspent funds, according to an audit of its books.It also still faces potentially millions of dollars in other unspecified debt, according to its former spokesman, most of which was spent overseas. It’s likely that will never be repaid.

I was glad to see the reporter refer to charters as”disrupters,” which they are, and not as “reform,” which they are not.


Two new charter schools in Utah have been warned that they may have to close by the end of the year, due to low enrollments.

The Utah State Charter School Board voted Thursday morning to begin the process of closing two financially troubled charter schools.

St. George Academy in Washington County and Capstone Classical Academy in Pleasant View are now on a watch list and have 14 days to ask for a meeting to appeal the charter school board’s decision.

Both schools are less than two years old. Capstone said they planned on having 500 students enrolled by this year, but the school struggled to recruit students and, as of Thursday, only had 177 students signed up.

The school gets money from the state for each student enrolled. The lack of bodies in the school means the state charter school board fears the school could be as much as $450,000 in the hole by the end of the year.

If the schools fail to convince the charter school board to allow them to stay open, they will be the second and third charter schools to be closed in the past two years.