Education Options in the States: State Programs That Provide Financial Assistance for Attendance at Private Elementary or Secondary Schools
Revised February 2009
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22. Utah—Carson Smith Scholarships for Students with Special Needs Program

Program type: Scholarships for students with disabilities

Description: The Carson Smith Scholarships for Students with Special Needs Program provides scholarships for attendance at approved private schools to students with qualifying disabilities. To be eligible, a student must have been enrolled in Utah public schools and have a current Individual Education Program (IEP), or have been admitted to an approved private school specializing in serving students with disabilities, and receive an assessment determining that the student qualifies for special education.

The scholarship is awarded for a term of three years and may be renewed. The amount of the scholarship is dependant upon the extent to which a student's disability results in a need for special education services. The special needs scholarship program is funded by annual appropriations by the Utah legislature. Scholarships are not guaranteed but are subject to the availability of funds, with priority given to existing scholarships.

Amount of assistance: The scholarship amount is the lesser of the tuition and fees charged by the participating private school or $6,442 for students who would have otherwise received more than 180 minutes of special education services per day in a public school, or $3,865 for students who would receive less than 180 minutes of special education services. In 2007-08, the maximum annual scholarship award was $6,285, and the average scholarship amount was $4,449.

Number of participants: In the 2007-08 school year, 545 students received scholarships to attend 39 approved private schools.

Authorizing statute: Utah Code Annotated §§53A-1a-701-53A-1a-710

Legislative history: On March 10, 2005, this program was signed into law and then amended on March 15, 2006. With respect to students already attending a private school, the March 2006 amendment extended eligibility to students to receive scholarships in a school that has formerly served students with disabilities; previously, eligibility was restricted to students in private schools that specialize in serving such students. It also required that public schools notify parents of the availability of scholarships under this program.

Judicial history: No legal suits have been filed regarding the program.

For more information, see:

23. Utah—The Parent Choice in Education Act11

Program type: Scholarships for students

Description: The Parent Choice in Education Act authorized scholarships for every family in Utah to use to attend the private school of their choice, with students from the lowest-income families receiving the largest scholarships.

Amount of assistance: Scholarships were to be between $500 and $3,000 based on a family's income in the preceding year, the number of members in the family, and students' eligibility for the free and reduced-price-lunch program.

Number of participants: Utah Code Annotated §§53A-1a-802-53A-1a-811

Authorizing statute: On Feb. 12, 2007, the Parent Choice in Education Act was signed into law. A second bill amending the legislation was signed into law on March 13, 2007.

Challenge to the law: After this bill and amendment were signed into law, groups opposed to this program gathered sufficient signatures to require a statewide referendum to recall or retain the law authorizing the scholarship program. This law was voted down in a referendum held in November 2007.

Judicial history: No legal suits have been filed regarding the program.

11 This program was not implemented as it was voted down in a state referendum in November 2007.

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Last Modified: 04/30/2009