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Utah – Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program

Utah – Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program

The Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program was enacted and launched in 2005. Under this program, students with special needs are eligible to receive private school vouchers of variable amounts. Learn more about this program’s funding, eligibility and regulations here.

Program Fast Facts

  • One of 18 private school choice programs exclusively serving students with special needs

  • 882 students participating (2016–17)

  • 12 percent of students eligible statewide

  • 55 schools participating (2016–17)

  • Average scholarship value: $5,905 (2016–17)

  • Value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 87 percent

Program Details

Utah’s Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program Participation

Students Participating
School Year Ending

Click the + symbols to learn more about this program’s details.

Most Utah students who have disabilities are eligible to receive vouchers to attend private school. However, participation is limited by the amount of money appropriated to the nearly $4.4 million program fund.

Student Funding

Vouchers are based on the state’s weighted pupil unit, an element of its school financing formula. Students who receive three or more hours of special education services per day get vouchers worth 2.5 times the weighted pupil unit, whereas students receiving fewer than three hours per day get vouchers worth 1.5 times the weighted pupil unit. In 2017–18, those values amount to $8,278 and $4,967, respectively. The voucher may not exceed the private school’s actual tuition and fees.

Student Eligibility

Public school students between ages 3 and 21 identified as disabled under federal disability rights law are eligible to receive vouchers, as well as students with special needs in private schools that served students with disabilities prior to participating in the program. Participation is limited by the amount of money appropriated each year to the $5.1 million program fund, with applications subject to random lottery.

EdChoice Expert Feedback

Although overall funding is low for Utah’s voucher program for students with special needs, the cap on appropriations can increase if the number of students in the program equals or exceeds 7 percent of the students with special needs in preschool through high school. Additionally, the program avoids unnecessary regulations on private schools. Participating schools must provide the results of an annual assessment to parents along with the educational services and associated costs being offered to a child, be approved by the state and comply with health, safety and nondiscrimination laws.

Rules and Regulations

  • Income Limit: None
  • Prior Year Public School Requirement: None
  • Geographic Limit: Statewide
  • Enrollment Cap: None
  • Voucher Cap: Conditional
  • Budget Cap: $5.1 million
  • Testing Mandates: Yes
  • *Limited to students with special needs


School Requirements:

  • Be approved by the state
  • Comply with federal nondiscrimination requirements of 42 U.S.C. 2000d
  • Comply with state health and safety codes
  • Submit to the state an audit and financial report completed by a certified public accountant
  • Possess adequate working capital to maintain operations for the first year
  • Disclose to parents the special education services to be provided and the cost of those services
  • Administer annual assessment of a student’s academic progress and report results to the student’s parents
  • Employ and assign recipients teachers that have bachelor’s degrees, three years of teaching experience or special skills
  • Provide parents with their voucher student’s teacher’s credentials

Legal History

No legal challenges have been filed against the program.

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