As the media and public begin to focus more on taxpayer funding for government schools, one program with very little funding has had an enormous impact on the education those with special needs—an important demographic of children who can often be forgotten in government schools.
The Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship was established in 2005 by action of the Utah Legislature and the signature of Governor Jon Huntsman. It provides private school scholarships to K-12 students who have a wide variety of special needs. With a current appropriation of only about $5 million, it serves over 900 children who can then get the specialized education that they need from the institution of their parents’ choice.
Bearing the name of the son of one of the program’s greatest advocates, Cheryl Smith, the program has steadily grown since its inception and is administered by the Utah State Office of Education. The success of the program has been well documented in legislative hearings and reports. Some important statistics include:
Earlier today, the Trafalgar Group (TFG) released a public opinion survey commissioned by Libertas Institute and Americans for Prosperity. The survey showed that only 50% of likely voters support the proposed state income tax increase when asked the same biased question being asked by polls commissioned by Our Schools Now. Here is the response to that question:
TFG Senior Strategist Robert Cahaly was quoted in the press release, “Like most issues, public opinion reveals itself based on the presentation of the question. When presented with a single digit fraction the income tax seems insignificant, but when the true cost of the tax increase is revealed there is a major opinion shift.”
Instead when voters are informed of the monetary repercussions of such an action, support for the initiative deteriorates. This survey was conducted in such a way that likely voters were not pressured by live interviewers to write a blank check for public education. Even when voters were informed about Utah’s last place per student spending ranking, support hardly increased.
Pollster Robert Cahaly also stated, “The question on cost per student affirms that in the abstract the public is willing to consider additional education support. This poll demonstrates that most Utahns share the current American consensus opinion on spending and taxes: ‘We want everything considered important to be well funded and we don’t want to pay more in taxes to make it happen.'”
Today’s new survey shows that majority support for a state income tax increase is not a foregone conclusion. Not only are voters against raising the state income tax, but they also have a negative opinion towards most of the other alternative tax increase proposals. We suggest that the legislature instead find a way to restore K-12 public education funding that has been earmarked for Higher Education. As we have written before, increasing funding for public education is not correlated to improved outcomes.
You can find the full poll report here.