Sutherland Institute applauds the compromise special needs scholarship bill

April 23, 2020

Sutherland Institute applauds the Utah State Legislature for passing the HB 4003 Sub 1 compromise during the year’s fourth special session. The bill establishes a more flexible special needs scholarship in Utah.

Sutherland Institute recognizes that education choice for Utah students is an ambitious goal with multiple routes that lead to it. Those different opportunities can be complicated by the manner in which ideas are presented, discussed and decided.

Such is the case with HB 4003 Sub 1, which creates a flexible tax credit scholarship for students with special needs. The debate was at times energetic, and the legislation leaves space for future adjustments, meaning there is opportunity for improvement in both process and policy. Even so, HB 4003 Sub 1 offers reasonable education improvements for special needs students. We applaud those who engaged with a spirit of reasoned collaboration on the bill, including the sponsors, legislators, the governor, and other stakeholders including educators and parents. We look forward to taking steps in the future to improve the process and policy around educational choice in the future.

The policy improvements to HB 332, which was vetoed in early April by Governor Gary Herbert, contained in HB 4003 Sub 1 include the graduated means-test (the less money you make, the more scholarship you can receive) and intent to combine the Carson Smith Scholarship and the new scholarship into one special needs program to avoid duplicative processes.

These changes are prudent policy, and the tax credit scholarship program created in the bill expands parental choice in important ways for Utah students with special needs – those most immediately in need of options.

Students with an individualized education program (IEP) will now have the opportunity to purchase a range of educational options outside of just school tuition that meet their unique needs, including textbooks, therapies, fees, supplemental materials, and more.

The Utah Code makes clear that parents have the primary responsibility to guide their children’s education, a provision that becomes more meaningful as education options continue to increase.

Keeping families and children as the focus, we see HB 4003 as a step forward.

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