Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
Senator Sheldon Killpack speaks during a press conference regarding vouchers at the Utah State Capitol Oct 17, 2007.

Even though Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said Wednesday he plans to vote in favor of the universal private school voucher program, he urges Utahns to be informed on the issue and vote for what they believe is right.

The announcement came at one of two news conferences held by lawmakers addressing both the pros and cons of private school vouchers.

Huntsman went no further at Wednesday's press conference than he has since the debate over the voucher referendum began. He said once again that while voters need to make up their own minds, he personally supports vouchers and will vote for Referendum 1.

"It's nothing new. I'm here to say what I've said all along," the governor told reporters. Huntsman said that it would be "presumptuous" for the state's chief executive to tell Utahns how they should vote in the upcoming election.

That is something voucher critics publicly applauded him for this week.

Huntsman has not done any advertising — and still won't. "I've been pretty clear from the very beginning what I would do and what I would not do." Huntsman had said he would not be a "poster child" for vouchers by participating in the campaign.

Even so, pro-voucher legislative leaders praised Huntsman's appearance at their press conference

Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, said the governor was "very clear in his support and his encouragement of people to vote for Referendum 1. ... That to me is more than lukewarm. That's red hot."

The Senate leader said the governor didn't need to be talked into appearing at Wednesday's press conference. "All we had to do was ask," Valentine said.

It's up to voters to make the decision, Valentine said. "If the people vote it down, I'm not interested in trying to resurrect it next session."

However, Speaker of the House Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, said he can't imagine the idea of vouchers in Utah will completely go away.

Lawmakers at the news conference said vouchers will help Utah's education funding to keep pace with the rapid rate of enrollment growth in Utah.

Huntsman also said he believes the voucher program would provide new opportunities for students who need a unique approach to education and would provide greater flexibility for families.

Moreover, he said that aside from the top handful of more expensive private schools, there are plenty of opportunities in the $2,000 to $4,000 range that will meet the needs of students.

Huntsman said the program will also help the state's competitiveness long-term.

"The world is at the most innovative and creative period in human history and so is our state. That means our technology threshold is going to go higher, depending upon kids' creativity and their ability to constantly renew themselves in terms of being better in the workforce and in the marketplace," Huntsman said. "That renewal effort is going to require different renewal actions."

But Utah Democrats who oppose vouchers said at another Capitol Hill press conference that instead drawing public funding away from public schools for the voucher program, the state should increase support in public schools for things like class size reduction, salary increases for teachers, technology and support for certification and licensing costs for highly qualified teachers.

"It is unconscionable that when so much still needs to be done to shore up our school system, and Utah continues to be last in per-pupil spending, that we are even considering bringing vouchers into play," said House Minority Leader Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake.

Contributing: Bob Bernick Jr.

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