Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program
- Enacted 2005
- Launched 2005
The Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program provides eligible families of students with special needs with vouchers to attend private schools. Learn more about this program’s funding, eligibility and regulations on this page
We do not administer this program.
Students Participating (Fall 2021)
of Students Eligible Statewide
Schools Participating (2020–21)
Average Scholarship Value (2020–21)
Value as a Percentage of Public School Per-student Spending
Utah’s Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program Participation
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 2020–21, those values amount to $9,522.50 and $5,713.50, respectively. The voucher may not exceed the private school’s actual tuition and fees.
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 fund ($7 million in 2020–21), with applications subject to random lottery.
Although a student technically must have been enrolled in a public school in the year prior to using a scholarship, the statute exempts students who both: (1) have a disability that would qualify for special education services in a public school, and (2) are enrolled or have obtained acceptance for admission to an eligible private school that has previously served students with disabilities.
EdChoice Expert Feedback
Utah’s voucher for students with disabilities helps tens of thousands of students access schools that are the right fit for them, but policymakers could do more to expand educational opportunity.
Eligibility for the scholarships is limited to students with certain special needs. About 13 percent of Utah students are eligible to receive a scholarship. Statewide, only 0.2 percent of students participate in this program. In 2020, Utah policymakers also enacted a tax-credit scholarship for students with special needs.
The average scholarship size is about $5,600, which is about 60 percent of the average expenditure per student at Utah’s district schools. Only $7 million in funding is available, which is equivalent to only 0.11 percent of Utah’s total K–12 revenue.
In order to expand access to educational choice, Utah policymakers should dramatically increase funding for the scholarships and expand eligibility to all students (prioritizing scholarships based on need). The program could also be converted into an education savings account to ensure that all students have access to the education that’s the right fit for them, whether private school or a customized course of education.
Utah’s voucher program generally avoids unnecessary and counterproductive regulations.
Rules and Regulations
- Income Limit: None
- Prior Year Public School Requirement: Yes (with exceptions)
- Geographic Limit: Statewide
- Enrollment Cap: None
- Voucher Cap: Conditional
- Budget Cap: $7 million
- Testing Mandates: Yes
- *Limited to students with special needs
- 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 educators that have bachelor’s degrees, three years of teaching experience or special skills
- Provide parents with their voucher student’s teacher’s credentials
No legal challenges have been filed against the program.
Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program State Groups
That Support School Choice
Education Opportunity 4 Every Child’s mission is to empower Utah parents with high-quality education options that fit every child’s individual needs.