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.
One of 15 private school choice programs exclusively serving students with special needs
905 students participating (2015–16)
12 percent of students eligible statewide
42 schools participating (2015–16)
Average scholarship value: $4,938 (2015–16)
Value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 76 percent
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.
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 2016–17, those values work out to $7,730 and $4,638, 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 nearly $4.4 million program fund, with applications subject to random lottery.
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, regulations on private schools are light when compared with other states: Participating schools must provide the results of an annual assessment to parents along with the educational services and associated costs being offered a child, be approved by the state and comply with health, safety and nondiscrimination laws.
No legal challenges have been filed against the program.