The heated and emotional eight-month battle between voucher friends and foes brought with it an $8.4 million price tag, according to campaign reports released Monday.
Parents for Choice in Education, the pro-voucher organization behind the proposed voucher law spent more than $5 million over the past year in efforts to ensure the program stayed on the books.
But the hastily formed Utahns for Public Schools organization, an anti-voucher coalition backed by the Utah Education Association, spent around $2 million less than PCE.
Nonetheless, in November Utahns for Public Schools were able to win voters over and the law fell to a 62 percent statewide vote.
"This report closes the door on Referendum 1, yet thousands of Utah children continue without access to a quality education," said Robyn Bagley, co-chairwoman of PCE's board. "PCE must continue to advocate for meaningful education reforms that put the child first, rather than the system."
Voucher opponents say the reason they failed was simple it wasn't good for Utah.
"People want to support public schools and they don't want vouchers I think that it's really that simple," said Lisa Johnson, spokesperson for Utahns for Public Schools. "The proposal wasn't something that would really help Utah children and voters really want to see something that is going to be helping all children, making a great education for everybody vouchers were never going to do that."
Hefty chunks of the funding came from Patrick Byrne, CEO of Overstock.com, and the Byrne family who backed the the Parents for Choice in Education with over $4 million dollars.
The anti-voucher coalition received around $3 million of its funding from the Utah Education Association and National Education Association, including over a dozen education associations in other states.
Now that the smoke has cleared, lawmakers say voucher legislation will not resurface this year. But both sides have their own plans in continuing to improve education in Utah.
"I think what people want to see now is a real investment in public schools, working on the challenges we face (such as) dealing with large class sizes and making sure there are great teachers in every classroom," said Johnson. "When it comes down to it those things are more important, I think, than the voucher program was."
And pro-voucher officials say they just want continue being a voice for parents and students.
"Moving forward, PCE will work aggressively to both find and support solutions to the education challenges facing our state. "Over the past seven years we have established ourselves as a strong, respected voice for education reform," said Bagley. "Our mission continues beyond vouchers as a voice for parents and kids. PCE will be that voice."
The voucher law that the Legislature passed earlier this year would have provided Utah families with a private-school tuition voucher ranging from $500 to $3,000 per student attending a private school, based on parents' income.
But voucher opponents didn't like the idea of shifting public money to private schools.
In March, Utahns for Public Schools filed for a referendum to let voters either repeal or keep the voucher program. In the months following campaign officials spent millions on advertising as well as enlisting grass-roots volunteer efforts to get their message out.And on Nov. 6, after nearly nine months of fierce campaigning, Utahns voted down the law by 62 percent.
Year-to-date spending by voucher campaigns
2007 voucher campaign spending
Utahns for Public Schools
Total contributions: $3,844,496.99
Total expenditures: $3,217,065.78
Parents for Choice in Education
Total contributions: $5,198,226.53
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