Legislative Special Session – Special Needs Scholarship

As we follow the Legislative special session to address the emergency created by the COVID-19 pandemic, an odd bill stands out in the line-up. HB 332 is a bill, which passed during the regular legislative session but was vetoed by the governor earlier this year, is making another pass with the hope of getting enough support to overturn the veto.

But honestly, what is this bill and what does it do? Essentially, HB 332 would give corporations, as well as individuals, income tax credit for donating money for the purpose of helping private schools accommodate students with disabilities through a scholarship program – the Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program. This scholarship program would be managed by the State Board of Education. As it oddly sticks out, it’s interesting trying to peel back the layers and understand this bill.

To begin, the difference between a public and a private school has a lot to do with accountability and oversight. By definition, a private school is free from government entities looking over their shoulder. For those who don’t like certain aspects of public education, it is their right to pay tuition or seek scholarships to attend a private school. Most people agree that choices in education are important, including the choice to attend a private school.

Okay, so students and parents should have choices, even students with special needs. As a person who serves as an American Sign Language interpreter, I agree wholeheartedly!

But there are a few important questions we need to ask. Should we give corporate donors tax breaks because they donate to the Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program? Does giving an income tax break to corporations impact our revenue? Does it put an undue burden on the State Board of Education?

I would argue yes. Here’s why.

Does giving an income tax break to corporations impact our revenue?

Income tax is how we pay for education. As we give corporations tax breaks, the amount of money we can collect for education goes down. This leaves fewer dollars to cover the needs of the state. So though the state would not be paying for the scholarships directly, we would be paying indirectly in lost revenue.

Does it put an undue burden on the State Board of Education?

This is probably the most important question. Because private schools are not required to follow the rules and regulations that public schools do, there is still a need to provide oversight for the care of special needs students receiving an education at a private school. Each student qualifies for this Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship by having an IEP (students under the Individualized Education Program — supported by IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Receiving and maintaining an IEP is intense and requires at least five different people. IEPs are evaluated at least every three years and in the case of a private school, would have to be conducted by the local public school. So a public school would still have to be responsible for the educational goals and responsibilities of a special needs student, but would have no say or control over the measures taken to meet the needs of the Education Plan.

In addition to all of that, the State Board of Education would become responsible for this private school’s scholarship program, managing the funds, determining qualified applicants, and conducting any follow up and oversight to ensure proper use of the funds. That all requires additional money that would be paid for by the state.

Hmm….

I have wondered why this particular bill is so important, especially given that we already have the Carson Smith Scholarship Program which essentially does the same thing. The one thing that stands out as a difference between the Carson Smith Scholarship Program (CSSP) and the proposed Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program (SNOSP) is the source of funding. CCSP is funded through the general fund and controlled by the legislature. Funds for the SNOSP but is donation based and is tied to an income tax credit.

I also can’t help but notice that one of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Lincoln Fillmore, is a former private school principal.

Studying this bill and trying to understand the real reasons for pushing it through at such a time as this makes me feel all the more certain that we need to be understanding these issues and making decisions together.

If indeed we feel that it’s important to support students with special needs having the choice they would otherwise not have to attend a private school, I would love to understand that point better. I would also love to round out that discussion with appreciating and understanding the efforts made by public schools to equally serve the needs of all students, including those with special needs.

Let us all continue to understand and learn together.

Face Mask Fundraiser

Life is challenging as we do our best to adapt since the outbreak of COVID-19. As new information becomes available, we do our best to apply best practices. One of the things our health leaders advise is the use of a face mask.

Therefore, I would like to make free face masks to anyone who donates to my campaign.

How does it work?

Make a donation to one of our candidates and then send an e-mail with your order to emilybergeson@uupforsd7.com. Please include:

  • Fabric selection
  • Size
  • Strap preference (elastic or ties)
  • Quantity

I will contact you to confirm your order and delivery preferences. I am also happy to send masks to other friends and relatives. I can work with you on the details.

Questions? Contact me at emilybergeson@uupforsd7.com

Sizes: men, women, teen, youth (7-12), child (3-6)

All masks are made according to the design pictured above. These masks are made with a white quilters cotton lining (the part that touches the face) and has a choice of elastic around the ears or ties. These masks do not have wire around the nose. For custom requests or questions, feel free to contact me!

Fabric choices (please check regularly as choices are based on supply):

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Cherry checkered
(loose weave poly-cotton)
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Garden flowers
(flannel)
Berries
(stiff cotton blend)
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Flowers on green background
(quilters cotton)
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Alligators
(quilters cotton)
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Summertime
(quilters cotton)
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Noah’s ark repair
(quilter’s cotton)
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Light green crosshatch
(flannel)
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Red with white polka dots
(quilters cotton)
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Red and navy plaid
(flannel)
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Silly dogs
(flannel)
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Light blue
(quilters cotton)
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navy blue
(quilters cotton)

Also available in plain white.

Primary Elections – How They Work in Utah

Primary elections are one of those things that managed to confuse me. Presidential primaries have their own processes, candidates, political party voting requirements, and deadlines. Local primaries have different candidates, deadlines, and also political party state requirements. And that’s all before the general election in November.

I don’t know why I was confused….

I tried looking on vote.utah.gov to kind of sort things out better, but couldn’t find anything that clearly explained all of these different elections (presidential primary, state primary, general elections).

At any rate, here’s hoping I can add some clarity.  As a note to those who already have a good handle on this topic, feel free to add to the conversation in the comments. We can all benefit from your knowledge!

Primary Elections – Generally Speaking

Primary elections are only necessary (before the general election) if for a given position, more than one person is stepping forward from the same political party. Each political party is allowed only one nominee, one person, to represent them on the ballot for each elected position. The primary election is a way for political parties, and those voting in their primaries, to pick their favorite. 

If only one candidate steps forward for each position, there would be no need for a primary. Those individuals would simply advance to the general election

Utah’s Presidential Primary Election

Because each state handles the presidential primaries and state primaries in their own way, Utah separates the presidential election from our state primary elections. Utah currently offers mail-in ballots (issued by the county clerk) to voters based on political party affiliation. Republican primaries are all closed primaries, limited only to registered members. All of the other political parties in the state conduct open primaries, allowing all registered voters to participate. Voters can also vote in-person on voting day. The same party affiliation restrictions apply.

The last day to participate in the 2020 PRESIDENTIAL primary in Utah is March 3. Ballots sent by mail must be postmarked by March 2nd.

(Note: United Utah has written additional provisions into their bylaws regarding the question of a presidential candidate. This will be addressed in a separate post.)

More About Presidential Primary Elections Nationwide

Once all of the individual state primary elections are done, there is a national convention to present a nominee for the general election. These conventions are held every four years, in line with when we elect a new president. Delegates from each state attend this big meeting and cast their vote for the candidate who won in their state. Each state determines the rules for how delegates vote, either reflecting the proportional results of their primary election (you guys vote for the first place winner, you guys vote for the second place winner, etc) or as a winner-take all (all of you vote for this one person).

When the national convention is done, the nominee is selected and then formally accepts the nomination. That one candidate (and chosen running mate) move on to the general election. 

2020 Presidential Primary Elections

The presidential primary for the Democratic party is currently the most intense this election cycle. More than the usual amount of candidates are hoping for the Democratic party nomination. With the number of candidates, the Democratic party has conducted a fair number of debates to help voters decide whom they like better. 

The Republican party has a handful of candidates on their primary ballot, but there aren’t any debates or any real contenders (as far as the public is concerned). That’s because President Donald Trump is able to run for a second term and he is pretty much the one who will win the nomination. It’s pretty rare, though not impossible, that the incumbent (the person currently in the position) doesn’t get the nomination. 

Iowa and New Hampshire have already finished their primary elections for all political parties registered in their state (specifically the Republicans and Democrats). From now until the national conventions, there will be more state primaries. Utah votes on what’s called “Super Tuesday” when 17 states conduct their presidential primary.

Utah State Primary Election

STATE primary elections are determined by state and local political party conventions. Remember, a primary election is only necessary if more than one candidate competes for an elected position within a given political party.

At these conventions, party delegates (selected based on the party’s bylaws) vote on candidates. If a candidate receives a certain percentage of votes, they either win the nomination, or qualify for a primary election. Thresholds and rules are determined by the political party. In the case when there is clear winner, the qualifying candidates move on to the primary election.

In Utah there is another way to get on the primary ballot of a political party. If a candidate does not achieve the necessary percentage of votes at the convention, the candidate is allowed to get their name on the ballot through signature gathering. Those who meet the requirements are allowed to have their name added.

For those political parties conducting a state and local primary election in 2020, voting ends June 30 (last day for state and local primary elections).

Share Your Thoughts and Questions

Share additional resources, thoughts, or questions!

Welcome!

Join me in being brave.

I’m super intimidated by the idea of running a campaign, but here I am. I have been researching politics over the last few years and something that stands out to me is that we all have something to contribute.

Politicians seem to like to keep the attention on themselves. I’d rather find out more about you. What do you like? What’s important to you. I love to bring out the best in others, and merge them together into the best ideas. I have quite a few great ideas, but I’m certain I’m not the only one. Some of the very best ideas come from collaborating and working together.

Another thing I’ve noticed in the political sphere is that people want you to think they “know-it-all.” This pressure to have all of the answers, I believe, is at the root of many systematic problems we currently face. When we admit we don’t know everything, we open ourselves up to better ideas. Whether those ideas are old or new, if they’re better, that’s what matters.

I hope you’ll join me in being brave. When one person is willing to be brave, that can inspire another person… and another… and another. Let’s be brave together!

Like this idea? Want to join us? Contact me at contact@bravingpoliticstogether.com

Meet Emily

Normally when you get to this section, it’s an opportunity for me to toot my own horn and tell everyone how awesome I am. I certainly intend to do that, because people still do want to know who I am. But before I do, I just want to say it’s not all that easy for someone like me to lay it all out for everyone to see.

My connection to Utah:

An important thing I’d like to mention right away is my connection to Utah. I’ve lived in a variety of places all my life, but Utah has been the one constant, stable thing. It was home for me when my father attended BYU. I spent elementary, middle, and junior high schools in Utah county. I came back as a BYU student myself and graduated with a business degree from the Marriott School of Business. I worked for two different start-up companies here. Three of my four children were born in Utah. My children currently attend elementary school here.

With all of those experiences there are several things I’d like to highlight:

  • I know what it’s like to go through the school system here in Utah, having received the bulk of my education here.
  • I know what it’s like for Utah entrepreneurs.
  • I know what it’s like to deal with the health care system, not only for the deliveries of my children but for several surgeries as well.
  • Because of immediate family members, I understand what it’s like for people who need special accommodations here in this state. Deaf education has been especially important to me.

My professional experience:

I have spent a number of years in the business world, working for large and small companies. I’m a certified American Sign Language interpreter and know what it’s like to be a regular trades person, paid hourly for specialized services. I am a returned Peace Corps Volunteer and spent a year and a half working with Eastern European organizations. I spent 8 years overseas while my husband worked as a diplomat. In those 8 years I learned the local language of each place we lived and volunteered my time to see what I could do to contribute to the communities around me. From working a small farm in Kazakhstan to walking the streets and helping the homeless of Jakarta, I learned so much about human ingenuity and goodness. Little things can have a huge impact. Never doubt what you can do.

Political Experience:

For many years, I didn’t vote. I didn’t think my vote mattered. Other, more educated people were surely taking care of things. No one needed me.

I’ve learned over the last few years just how wrong I was. Every vote counts. Every person is important. I started a political blog to help educate myself on issues as well as to help me appreciate the beautiful variety we have in our political spectrum. From the far left to the far right and everything in between, every person has something meaningful to contribute.

I love looking for connections and opportunities to collaborate. I love using my business background and my interpreting skills to make policy that is practical and lasting. I look forward to serving you in the Utah Senate.