Utahns for Public Schools launched a Web tool on Monday designed to allow Utahns to see what private schools would be accessible to them and for some the closest school is more than 200 miles away.
The new Rural Voter Alert Web site aims to illustrate the lack of access some rural Utahns would have to private schools should they want to participate in the private school voucher program.
"More than half of Utah counties have no private schools at all," said Lisa Johnson, spokesperson for the anti-voucher group.
But voucher supporters say private schools are available to 90 percent of the state's population and if Utahns vote to implement the voucher program more private schools in rural areas could follow.
The voucher program would allow Utah families to receive private school tuition vouchers ranging from $500 to $3,000 per student attending a private school, based on parents' income.
It also appropriates $9.2 million to offset any financial impact school districts may experience for five years after a student leaves and goes to a private school.
But some critics say the law is only geared to those along the Wasatch Front, not to those in rural areas who would also be paying into the program.
"I know that most of the state lives on the Wasatch Front, but we are still part of Utah," said Hal Adams, state 2008 Teacher of the Year, who teaches at Grand County High in Moab.
Ryan Anderson, a high school teacher from Moab, said the closest private school to him is 225 miles away, according to the Voter Alert site.
"It really won't be a benefit to anyone rurally ... we need to be investing in our public schools, not voucher schools that may be hours away," Anderson said.
But Leah Barker, spokeswoman for the pro-voucher Parents for Choice in Education, said leaders of that organization mapped all the private schools in Utah as well as the population of those areas and found that 130 of the state's private schools are located where 90 percent of the population is.
"There are going to be some smaller counties that don't have schools right now, but we are totally optimistic that if those parents want it the supply will follow the demand," Barker said.
Voucher critics are skeptical.
"In a lot of these places it's a pretty small market, and if you are really trying to start up a business you're not going to be able to really attract the numbers in these small towns and rural areas that you could on the Wasatch Front," Johnson said. "If it's a business decision, is it going to be worth the investment? I don't know."To visit Rural Voter Alert go to www.utahnsforpublicschools.org/ruralvoteralert.
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