SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 10 (AP) - The Utah State Legislature approved one of the broadest school voucher programs in the nation on Friday, allotting up to $3,000 for any public school student to put toward private school tuition.
Voucher programs in the handful of other states that have them are generally intended for poor families or students attending schools that have poor academic records. There will be no such restrictions in Utah, which has the largest class sizes in the country and until now has spent less per student than any other state.
The Senate approved the bill 19 to 10 on Friday, a week after the House endorsed it by a single vote, 38 to 37. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans. Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a Republican whose children attend public schools, has said he will sign the bill into law.
The vouchers will be open to all of the state's 512,000 public school students. The amount will depend on family income, but even wealthy families would be eligible for at least $500 per child. Students already in private schools would not be eligible.
The plan, which will go into effect this fall, is expected to cost $9.3 million in its first year and $327 million over 12 years. Utah has a $1.6 billion budget surplus. Public schools that lose enrollment because of the program will still get a portion of state financing for five years after each student departs.
The bill's sponsor, Representative Stephen H. Urquhart, a Republican, said public schools would not be shortchanged. In Utah, income taxes must pay for public education. The money for vouchers would come from the state's general fund, which pays for all other state programs.
Nearly every education organization in the state, especially the teachers union, opposes the program, saying tax money should not be spent at private schools.
"This has nothing to do about educating children," said Senator Gene Davis, a Democrat. "It's about taking taxpayer dollars and giving them to private industry."