- Policy Environment
While funding is tenuous each year, the environment for chartering in the Beehive state has grown increasingly open, with a number of innovative and successful programs serving students throughout the state.
Law passed: 1998
Most recently amended: 2019
Number of charter schools: 134
Number of charter students: 77,582
Cap on the number of schools allowed:? No but depending on annual budgets.
Virtual charters allowed? Yes
AUTHORIZERS: Local school boards, universities, and the State Charter School Board (SCSB), which is the statewide authorizer. The SCSB authorizes most charter schools in the state — 120 of the 134 total. Two universities currently authorize – Weber State University and Davis Applied Technical College. The law requires local universities to receive final authorization from the state board of education. Local boards are allowed to provide input on applications from their district to the SCSB. The SCSB and the local district board are allowed input into applications to university authorizers. The SCSB operates semi-autonomously from the State Board of Education, which means it is not as vulnerable to political pressure.
GROWTH: The state does not cap the number of charter schools allowed, but it does cap the number of students allowed to enroll in charter schools. The state board of education can approve increases in charter school capacity, but the legislature must appropriate funds in the budget for the increase. Any arbitrary limitation on the number of students who can attend charter schools denies families opportunities.
OPERATIONS: Schools must apply for a waiver from the state to operate free from regulations, placing a burden on schools to wade through copious rules for their requests. Legislation passed here in 2019 allows charter schools to provide an enrollment preference for children of military.
EQUITY: The state provides operating funds for charters, but those funds are subject to budget fluctuations. This means that charters normally operate with less funding than district schools.
The law stipulates a local replacement fund for local property tax amounts that district schools receive. The amount of the local replacement fund is tied to increases the legislature and local districts implement either as property tax raises or as state guarantees to local property taxes. The program requires that at least 10% of local funding must be spent on facilities. Charter schools are also entitled to all applicable federal funding.
A new Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program was signed into law in April 2020 adding to the first ever state special needs scholarship program adopted in 2005.
Law enacted: 2005
Number of programs: 2
Statewide Participation: 907
Types of programs: Voucher and Scholarship Tax Credit
Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program
The Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program launched in 2005 serves 907 students. Under this program, students with specific special needs are eligible to receive private school vouchers to attend private schools. There is no income limit for eligibility, and the program does not have an enrollment cap. A low budget cap of approximately $6.6 million per year limits participation.
Utah’s Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program
Utah’s Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program was enacted in 2020 and will launch in 2021. This program provides 100% tax credit to individuals contributing to scholarship-granting organizations that provide scholarships for students with special needs.
Utah has rigorous content test requirements for prospective elementary teachers; requires license based on passing four subtests with individual scores in math, reading and language arts, science, and social studies.
Utah is a leader in promoting and understanding what is necessary for digital education. The Utah Education Network provides free digital tools, instructional materials, and professional development to Pre-K Education, Higher Education, and Career Education in the state.
The Utah Education and Telehealth Network commissioned Connected Nation to do an independent analysis for the state legislature every two years. The January 2020 version is here, and includes a wealth of information for districts, including the device-to-student ratio, wifi access and speed, whether school networks were professionally engineered, and technology support offered by the schools.
In 2011, legislation created the Statewide Online Education Program, allowing public, private, and homeschooled high school students to take online courses for graduation credit. In 2012 the Digital Teaching and Learning (DTL) initiative was launched out of collaboration between school districts and the state, resulting in Utah’s Master Plan: Essential Elements for Technology Powered Learning, grant programs and various software initiatives to support literacy growth.
Utah’s Juab School District and Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind are members of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, expanding digital learning opportunities to over 5,000 students across the state. The League of Innovative Schools is a network of school leaders in 114 districts in 34 states that aim to enhance and scale digital learning opportunities for students across the nation.
Bandwidth: 100% of students in Utah can access the Internet at speeds of 100 kbps per student, and many students are connected at higher speeds.
Utah has expanded Competency- Based Education through policy measures, grant programs, and the Competency- Based Education Framework. The state encourages new models of learning that advances students based on mastery of content, not seat time.
Utah is currently developing Utah’s Portrait of a Graduate, which is set to move to implementation by 2021. The Portrait of a Graduate identifies critical competencies for high school graduates such as digital literacy, critical thinking, creativity and innovation, and collaboration.
On March 13, Gov. Hebert closed schools temporarily in reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak, and on April 14 announced they would remain closed for the duration of the school year. Utah worked to ensure students could continue learning while school buildings were closed. The state provided planning resources and tools for teachers, and took steps to ensure students had access to the internet. A new website with information and resources for students, parents, teachers, and administrators is here.
On June 29, the governor approved the state board of education’s reopening plan for the 2020-21 school year, and guidelines are on the state education department website, and are thorough and easy to understand. Districts determined reopening plans and were required to submit them to the state by August 1, but the state board did not have an approval process. All district plans are posted on the website for parents to view. Schools are encouraged to provide in-person instruction, and most districts offer both in-person and virtual, or a combination of the two.
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First term began in 2009 (no term limit)
Governor Herbert is pro-parent power and signed a new special needs scholarship program bill into law in 2020. He has also been supportive of innovation and the state’s charter sector. More can be done however in this rural state for students who need access to remote learning options.
A Republican majority legislature, members are generally pro-ed opportunity with strong advocates in leadership in both chambers. The state board is elected and appoints the state Superintendent of Public Instruction. Overall, the environment for trusting parents here is favorable. With 12% of public school students attending charter schools, families are exercising choice and deserve to have even more.
Utah gives parents access to a lot of data. Report cards are easily accessible in two clicks on Utah’s DOE homepage by clicking Data Gateway. The report card is well-formatted, however it focuses mainly on student enrollment and performance, lacking important information on teacher quality and school climate.
Educational options are easily accessed under the Students and Families tab.
School board elections are during the general election cycle, which gives parents more power in their decision making because of higher voter turnout.