Utah – Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program - EdChoice

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Utah – Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program

Utah – Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program

Utah’s Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program is a tax-credit scholarship enacted in 2020 and launching in 2021. The program provides a dollar-for-dollar tax credit to individuals donating to scholarship-granting organizations, nonprofits that provide scholarships to students with special needs that can be used at private schools as well as for therapies. Learn more about this program’s funding, eligibility and regulations on this page.

Program Fast Facts

  • Utah’s second private school choice program

  • One of 19 private school choice programs exclusively serving students with special needs

  • 11 percent of students eligible statewide

  • Value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 98 percent

  • Maximum scholarship value: $7,030 (2019–20 projected)

Program Details

Percent of Utah students eligible for the Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program

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

Students in Utah with evaluated special needs are eligible to receive scholarships to attend approved private schools as well as for therapies from scholarship-granting organizations (SGOs), nonprofits that provide scholarships from donations from individual taxpayers.

Student Funding

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 with IEPs coming from families earning up to 185 percent ($48,470 for a family of four in 2019–20)  of the federal poverty level (FPL) are eligible for scholarships worth up to two-and-a-half times Utah’s weighted pupil unit (about $8,790 in 2019–20). Students with IEPs whose families earn between 185 and 555 percent of FPL ($145,410 for a family of four in 2019–20) may receive scholarships worth up to twice the weighted pupil unit (about $7,030 in 2019–20).  Students with IEPs whose family income exceeds 555 percent of FPL or who are in kindergarten are eligible for scholarships up to Utah’s weighted pupil unit (about $3,515 in 2019–20).

Eligible students in grades 1–12 without IEPs are eligible for scholarships up to twice the weighted pupil unit (about $3,515 in 2019–20).  Kindergarten students without IEPs may receive scholarships worth up to half of Utah’s weighted pupil unit (about $1,760 in 2019–20).

Student Eligibility

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 and are neither a public school student nor a recipient of the state’s Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program.

EdChoice Expert Feedback

Utah’s Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program is a welcomed complement to the state’s existing Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program, which is limited by a low cap on appropriations. Although the cap on the available tax credits is relatively low, it includes an automatic “escalator” that allows the amount of tax credits to grow over time to meet demand.

The program is light on participating school regulations, with the law ensuring participating private schools are given “the maximum freedom to provide for the educational needs of participating students … without unlawful governmental control.” The program also allows families considerable freedom in how they use scholarship funds. In addition to private school tuition, families can use the scholarships for textbooks, testing costs, supplemental and online materials at private schools, and for educational therapies from licensed physicians and therapists.

Rules and Regulations

  • Income Limit: None
  • Prior Semester Public School Requirement: No
  • Geographic Limit: Statewide
  • Enrollment Cap: None
  • Scholarship Cap: Weighted Pupil Unit
  • Testing Mandates: None
  • Credit Value: 100%
  • Total Credit Cap: No
  • Budget Cap: $5.9 million (escalator)
  • *Limited to students with special needs

 

SGO Requirements

  • 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
    • All investment and interest revenue is to be spent on scholarships
  • 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

Governing Statutes

Utah Code §§ 53E-7-402 through 410; 59-7-109.1; 59-7-625; and 59-10-1041

Legal History

No legal challenges have been filed against the program.

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