Guest opinion: Unfettered access to options in education will be a game-changer for Utah families
Now that school is back in session for students in Utah and across the country, many of them have found families are leaving traditional public schools and are considering alternative learning options for their children.
This is because families want the best education for their children, and they are starting to notice that a one-size-fits-all education does not work for all students.
In fact, in Utah alone, between 2018 and 2022, thousands of students left traditional public schools and have started to attend public charter schools, private schools, homeschools and microschools.
Later this school year in March 2024, families will have an opportunity to apply for the state’s newest school choice program, the Utah Fits All Scholarship Program. This will give $8,000 back to qualifying Utah families to choose an education for their children.
As someone who benefited from having more education options in the state, this will be a God-send for families no matter their background, ZIP code or family income.
When I attended school in Utah, public charter school options were increasing in popularity, and I am grateful my family took advantage of the options. Before then, my family sacrificed a lot to send my sister and me to private schools, but when my dad lost his job during the Great Recession of 2008, we later were pulled out of those schools.
At the time, the only school-choice scholarship available was the Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program, which neither my sister nor I could use.
If my family had access to school-choice scholarships, we would have been able to likely stay at our school or even find a better school for her and me. My sister and I thrived in public charter schools, but my parents would have been able to cast our net further to find an education that truly worked best for us.
The Utah Fits All Scholarship Program, which passed earlier this year, is a game-changer for families when it comes to choosing an education that works for their families. Not only will it let families choose where they want to send their children to school but they will be able to use funds for tutoring, transportation and after-school activities.
Even traditional public and public charter school students will be able to receive a partial scholarship for “customized expenses.” This scholarship program is not the same as voucher programs, as those are only for private school tuition. It is an education savings account program, where funds are more flexible for families.
Also, unused funds from the Utah Fits All Scholarship Program will go back to students in public schools. This means there will be more money for fewer students attending these schools.
The Heritage Foundation ranks Utah at No. 11 for education freedom in the country, and the state continues to increase access to more education options. The state also ranks No. 9 in the country for its pre-K to 12 education, according to the U.S. News & World Report.
If Utah ranks so high in education, why should parents care where their child attends school? Every child is different and does not deserve to stay trapped in a school that fails them. It does not matter if it is the best or worst school in the state; if the school does not work for them, it is failing them.
A one-size-fits-all education does not work for all students, and families need unfettered access to all education options. There will also always be need for improvement for education, no matter if a state ranks high or low.
For example, my parents tried sending my sister to a top high school with advanced programs and an international baccalaureate program, but it did not work for her. She returned to her charter school education, and she eventually graduated and now attends one of the best universities in the country.
Contrary to popular belief, access to more learning options can also provide positive effects for traditional public schools. In fact, they can help improve student outcomes by providing competition, as well as incentives for traditional public schools to innovate and improve. I saw this firsthand in Utah when traditional public schools had competition from charter schools.
The Utah Fits All Scholarship Program will be transformative for education in the state. It is not about funding public or private schools. It is about prioritizing education for children in the state and empowering families to choose an education that works for them.
Frances Floresca is a education and free-market policy analyst and reporter who has worked for organizations in Utah, the District of Columbia and Nevada. She grew up in Utah and graduated from the University of Utah David Eccles School of Business in 2019.