EDUCATION & SCHOOLS
Private schools celebrate state funding, expect ‘significant uptick in enrollment’
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s private schools are celebrating that they’ll receive state funding for the first time through a new school choice program.
Gov. Spencer Cox signed HB 215 into law on Saturday, which provides funding to the school choice program along with $6,000 in raises for public school teachers.
About 5,000 students will receive scholarships to attend private schools through a new process that the state is establishing now. The state will select a program manager by September, and then applications will open sometime in 2024. The first ones will be awarded for the 2024-2025 school year.
Each school voucher will be worth up to $8,000, which is the average cost of a private school in Utah for kindergarten through eighth grade, according to Galey Colosimo, executive director of the Utah Private Schools Association and principal at Juan Diego Catholic School in Draper. The average cost for high schoolers is $12,000 per year.
Colosimo’s organization represents 35 private schools. He said there are a total of 132 in the state, with enrollment totaling about 23,000 students.
“There are many schools that have large openings, many openings, and so I would say across those 35 (schools), a large percentage of them will see a significant uptick in enrollment as a result of it,” he explained.
Colosimo said private schools generally set tuition based on a sliding scale, with lower-income families paying less. The vouchers from the state will help close the gap.
“Now what it’ll be is we have a family that was paying $1,500 who will now come to us with an $8,000 scholarship,” Colosimo said.
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The state has allocated $42 million per year for the vouchers and the overhead to run the program.
“It’s going to allow us to pay our teachers more money,” he added. “It’ll allow us to have more programs that may not have been possible before with extracurricular programs or activities.”
Colosimo said that based on what’s happened in school choice programs in other states, it could be three or four years before more private schools start to open.
“It’s not meant to destroy public education,” he expressed. “It’s bringing private schools into the K-12 landscape to be an option for parents just like charter schools are or just like online schools are.”
Stepheni Camero, whose two grandsons go to a private catholic school, said her family pays $20,000 for the two children to attend.
“This is really good, and it’s fair,” Camero said. “You know, when you pay and keep the state going and keep everything up and up, we should get some benefit out of it somehow.”
The state’s largest teachers union, the Utah Education Association, fought against HB 215. Public school teachers have said public money should go toward public schools. They’ve also raised concerns about accountability and standards for private schools.
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