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Utah Succumbs to Special Interests, Gives $12 Million to Kevin Costner Instead of School Choice Bill

Updated: May 7, 2022

Kevin Costner at the Art Directors Guild Awards 2022 | Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images

Last month, Utah's legislative session decided to apportion hundreds of millions of dollars to tax returns (which is generally a good thing) and Hollywood subsidies (which can be helpful) but while also claiming that it has no room in the budget for an anti-bullying school choice initiative, which has been demonstrated to increase students' mental health, mitigate actual threats to children's lives, and have zero impact on the public school system at large.

This safety initiative is called the Hope Scholarship Program, which has been running strong in 10 states so far with demonstrable improvement for the human beings actually sitting in the classrooms in those states, studies have confirmed. The Utahn version of the bill is called HB 331.

Such a program decentralizes schooling decisions just a little bit by providing avenues through which students who are victims of bullying can successfully flee to another public school with capacity or an approved private school by the state.

Florida’s Department of Education outlines in more detail the humanitarian and Americanist nature of their version of the Hope Scholarship Program:

"[A] student enrolled in a Florida public school in kindergarten through grade 12 who has been subjected to an incident of battery; harassment; hazing; bullying; kidnapping; physical attack; robbery; sexual offenses, harassment, assault, or battery; threat or intimidation; or fighting at school [will be given] the opportunity to transfer to another public school with capacity or enroll in an approved private school under the Hope Scholarship."

As CEO of the Center for Education Reform (CER) and Forbe's contributor, Jeanne Allen stated yesterday, the policymakers in Salt Lake City “willingly accept special interest information without external scrutiny and without the knowledge that comes from learning precisely the critical snowball effects of their actions” for the rest of the state. And there is no greater hurt that is felt more than by the students. Not the teachers unions. Not the school board members. Not the governor or legislators. The students.

Activist parent and Utahn proponent of HB 331, Katherine Bathgate, posits that “opponents’ arguments centered on investing solely in public education, rather than creating any new opportunities for families. But by investing solely in the current system, we ignore too many kids and families who are being left behind.”

Utah Governor Spencer Cox (R) threw the heaviest political weight against the bill, due to his position, when he vowed to veto HB 331 if it were to succeed. His reasoning?: "Now is not the time."

Advocates for school choice and educational reform want to know, "When is the time?," and, "If there is a time, why not now?"

Additionally, the state's legislators just authorized $12 million to go to Hollywood for Kevin Costner to shoot a film there. Clearly, the final obstacle was not a lack of resources for the state. Utah chose "glitz over grit," as the president of CER put it. Furthermore, $193 million was deemed by the government to be surplus money and thus was given back to tax payers. If school reform was truly on the minds of those in the state capital, then a $193 million surplus would be an easy category to pull from, citizen watchdogs speculate.

Cox also made clear that he wouldn't be in support of this education reform measure until his personal education reform measure is first adopted. "Amputate both of my arms since you can only save one," is equivalent logic.

Why is public education not set up around students and the parents of students?

For Allen, the answer is that opponents "advocate to protect the traditional public school system, above the student - in most cases, teachers unions and school boards’ associations." That is to say, the mission of the government tends to get lost on those entrusted to carry it out. It is classic statism 101: the technocratic arms of the government become increasingly detached from the body politic and take increasingly more of a life of their own.

To find out how you can join the grassroots army of activists trying to bring government education back down to a representative and localized level from a centralized and authoritarian one, go to our "Projects Page," click on the school choice section, and take advantage of the Center for Education Reform's resources for your own state and locality.

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