SB 177: Expanding Special Needs Scholarships
This bill passed the Senate 16-12 and was not heard in the House.
In the past we’ve shown the need to expand or build upon the success of the Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship. Families have been able to engage in life-changing education services for their children. The evidence is clear that the small amount of funding that has been provided to this program has gone a long way.
The question then becomes: what can Utah do to capitalize on that success?
Funding for the Carson Smith program is capped and has reached a ceiling that would be hard to overcome, so a new funding model is needed. Senator Lincoln Fillmore’s Senate Bill 177 creates an individual/corporate tax credit that would be used to fund a new scholarship program for special needs students.
Instead of removing funding from the general fund or education fund, the end result of these tax credits would actually be a net positive for the amount of per-pupil spending for Utah students.
The program would be administered by several scholarship granting organizations that would find taxpayers interested in donating to the program. These same organizations would be tasked with providing funds to families of qualifying special needs students for educational support.
Unlike vouchers, this special needs scholarship program would offer an opportunity for parents to go beyond choosing where their child is educated to having a say in how their child is educated. Utah parents need a solution that is more flexible and most importantly can serve many more special needs students.
These types of programs for special needs students have been very successful in other states like Arizona and Florida. Instead of just funding private school tuition, the scholarship can be used on a variety of education services. Utah families need these kinds of opportunities for their special needs children in order to provide the best education possible.
It’s time for Utah to create a new special needs scholarship that leaves public schools with increased per-pupil funding while providing new hope and opportunity for students and their parents.