Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program
- Tax-Credit Scholarship
- Enacted 2020
- Launched 2021
Utah’s Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program provides a dollar-for-dollar tax credit to individuals who donate to scholarship-granting organizations, nonprofits that provide scholarships to students with special needs to pay for private school tuition, textbooks and therapies. Learn more about this program’s funding, eligibility and regulations on this page.
We do not administer this program.
of Students Eligible Statewide
Maximum Scholarship Value (2020–21)
Maximum Value as a Percentage of Public School Per-student Spending
Percent of Utah students eligible for the Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program
Scholarships may be used to pay for tuition, fees, textbooks, testing costs, supplemental and online materials at private schools as well as educational therapies from licensed physicians and therapists.
SGOs determine scholarship values, with maximum amounts determined by a student’s family income and IEP status. Students in grades 1–12 with IEPs coming from families earning up to 185 percent ($48,470 for a family of four in 2020–21) of the federal poverty level (FPL) are eligible for scholarships worth up to two-and-a-half times Utah’s weighted pupil unit ($9,362.50 in 2020–21). Students in grades 1–12 with IEPs whose families earn between 185 and 555 percent of FPL ($145,410 for a family of four in 2020–21) may receive scholarships worth up to twice the weighted pupil unit ($7,490 in 2020–21). Students in grades 1–12 with IEPs whose family income exceeds 555 percent of FPL are eligible for scholarships up to one-and-a-half times Utah’s weighted pupil unit ($5,617.50 in 2020–21).
Eligible students in grades 1–12 without IEPs and eligible kindergartners with an IEP are eligible for scholarships up to the weighted pupil unit ($3,745 in 2020–21). Kindergarten students without IEPs may receive scholarships worth up to half of Utah’s weighted pupil unit ($1,827.50 in 2020–21).
Students are eligible for scholarships if they have special needs and meet one of the following categories: (a) have a current IEP, (b) if they are a kindergarten student without a current IEP but have an individualized family service plan in accordance with IDEA or (c) have been determined by a multidisciplinary evaluation team to be eligible for services under IDEA. To be eligible, students must not be a public school student or a recipient of the state’s Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program.
EdChoice Expert Feedback
Utah’s tax-credit scholarship program for students with special needs has the potential to help hundreds of students access schools that are the right fit for them, but policymakers could do more to expand educational opportunity.
Students with special needs and foster kids are eligible to receive a tax-credit scholarship. About 10 percent of Utah students are eligible to receive a scholarship via this program. Statewide, only 0.2 percent of students participate in one of Utah’s private educational choice options (including the Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program).
The maximum scholarship size is projected to be about $9,300, which is just under the average expenditure per student at Utah’s district schools. Tax credits are worth 100 percent of the value of the contributions to scholarship organizations, but only $5.9 million in tax credits are available annually, which is equivalent to only 0.09 percent of Utah’s total K–12 expenditures.
In order to expand access to educational choice, Utah policymakers should significantly increase the amount of available tax credits and expand eligibility to all students. 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 scholarship program generally avoids unnecessary and counterproductive regulations.
Rules and Regulations
- Income Limit: None
- Prior Semester Public School Requirement: No
- Geographic Limit: Statewide
- Enrollment Cap: None
- Scholarship Cap: Conditional
- Testing Mandates: None
- Credit Value: 100%
- Per Donor Credit Cap: No
- Budget Cap: $5.9 million (escalator)
- *Limited to students with special needs
- Be a state-approved 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization
- Provide a methodology on verifying student eligibility
- Administer annual reports to state board
- Submit to annual audits of the total dollar amount of donations, number and dollar amount of scholarships awarded and the percentage of first-time recipients previously enrolled in a public school
- Use at least 92 percent of contributions for scholarships
- No more than 5 percent of revenue from program donations is to be spent on administration
- No more than 3 percent of revenue from program donations is to be spent on marketing and fundraising costs
- Use all revenue from interest or investments for scholarships
- Prohibit employees with a criminal background risk from handling, managing or processing donations
- Ensure that scholarships can be transferred during the school year to a different qualifying school
No legal challenges have been filed against the program.
Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program State Groups
That Support School Choice
We don’t yet know of any Utah-based organizations that are fighting for educational choice opportunities. If you know of one you’d like to submit to our team, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.