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School voucher bill sponsor calls lobbyist's comments 'misguided and inaccurate'

Utah State Capitol. (Photo: Eddie Collins/KUTV)
Utah State Capitol. (Photo: Eddie Collins/KUTV)
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The sponsor of a hotly-debated Utah bill establishing a school voucher program while also giving pay raises to teachers is distancing herself from a prominent lobbyist who was recorded saying she wants to “destroy public education.”

Rep. Candice Pierucci (R-Herriman) told KUTV 2News the statement made by Allison Sorensen, executive director of Kaysville-based Education Opportunity for Every Child, is “misguided and inaccurate” and “in no way reflects my opinion, or the opinions of the many legislators, teachers, parents, grassroots organizations, and citizens who support HB 215.”

An audio recording of Sorensen’s comments began circulating Sunday evening on Twitter. Lisa Logan posted the audio and told KUTV 2News it was recorded at a “Utah Fits All” parent information/training session.

“Utah Fits All” is the official name of the voucher program that would be established under House Bill 215, which would give parents $8,000 per child to pay for private school or other educational options.

In the audio recording, which appears to include multiple clips edited together, Sorensen is heard saying she has “whipped some butts” on the voucher bill after it failed resoundingly in the House of Representatives last year. She then made an eyebrow-raising remark about the measure.

“I can’t say this is a recall of public education. Even though I want to destroy public education, I can’t say that,” said Sorensen. “The legislators can’t say that because they’ll be just reamed over the coals.”

Also in the audio recording, someone is heard asking Sorensen if teachers’ unions are just going to argue that teachers will lose their jobs if the bill goes through.

“Of course they will,” Sorensen responded. “They’re just going to say that no matter what I do, even though I’m giving them a pay raise. They’re still going to put a gun to your head and take your taxes, and the UEA is still going to come to them and say, give me the damn money. And so, until you take your money back, they don’t care.”

House Bill 215, which passed the House last week and will have a Senate committee hearing Monday afternoon, incudes an extra $6,000 pay raise for teachers, but the tying of that raise to the voucher program has sparked criticism from Democrats and others who oppose the measure.

KUTV 2News reached out to Sorensen and Education Opportunity for Every Child for comment Sunday evening but did not hear back until late Monday evening when Sorensen issued a statement.

"I apologize for my thoughtless and inappropriate comments. I should not have made them," Sorensen said. "My remarks as an individual should not be interpreted to represent any organization, the legislature, or the tens of thousands of Utahns who are asking for more education opportunities for their families and communities. Like any other mom, I want every child in Utah to have access to an education that helps them thrive."

Sorensen is registered with the state to lobby on Capitol hill on behalf of her organization, according to the latest filings.

Asked for comment on Sorensen’s comments, House spokesperson Alexa Musselman referred KUTV 2News to Pierucci’s statement and said, “we echo her sentiment.”

In her statement, Pierucci said the purpose of her bill is to increase teacher pay and help parents find the best way to meet their children's educational needs.

"I believe in our public education system," said Pierucci, "and am committed to continuing to invest and support our teachers and students."

House Bill 215 is opposed by the Utah Education Association, the Utah State Board of Education, and other education organizations.

Besides Pierucci, other lawmakers also expressed concern about Sorensen’s comments on the audio recording.

“To say it concerns me is probably an understatement,” wrote Sen. Mike McKell (R-Spanish Fork) on Twitter late Sunday. “Stating an intention to ‘destroy’ public education is significant and troubling.”

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"I don’t know anyone in the [S]enate or [H]ouse that wants to destroy public education," added Sen. John Johnson (R-North Ogden). "This is unfortunate and concerning but Candice [Pierucci] is the spokesperson for her bill."

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