Growth in Utah’s charter school enrollment slows again as public school students top 650K

New numbers from the Utah Board of Education show an additional 7,872 students are attending the state’s public schools this year.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Fourth graders at Pacific Heritage Academy charter school in North Salt Lake, seen in 2012. New data released Tuesday by the Utah Board of Education show that the growth in enrollment at Utah’s charter schools is slowing, though the number of students in both charter and public schools continues to rise.

More than 650,000 students enrolled in Utah’s public schools this fall, according to data released Tuesday by the Utah Board of Education.

Statewide enrollment grew by 1.2 percent this year, adding 7,872 children for a total of 652,348 students in Utah’s public education system.

Among the state’s charter schools, enrollment grew by 5.7 percent to a total of 75,567 students. That growth rate, while outpacing the state as a whole, is the smallest year-over-year percentage increase for charter schools in four years.

“The number of applications for new charter schools has, unsurprisingly, gone down,” said Royce Van Tassell, executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools. “The State Charter School Board continues to be thorough in evaluating proposed charters. There are more that they reject than they approve.”

As recently as 2014, charter schools were seeing double-digit percentage growth in enrollment each year. Since then, the number of charter campuses — which are publicly funded but operate independently of Utah’s 41 school districts — has expanded, even as three charters have been shut down amid concerns of low performance and budgetary lapses.

Van Tassell said it is natural for those growth patterns to fluctuate as parents select from a widening set of options.

“Utah has a healthy number of choices — from your district school to a charter school to home school to whatever,” he said. “We are thrilled that we can be one of those options for Utah parents.”

Utah’s largest charter schools<br>Providence Hall (Herriman): 2,092 students<br>Utah Virtual Academy (online): 2,037 students<br>American Leadership Academy (Spanish Fork): 1,765 students<br>American Preparatory Academy-Accelerated (West Valley City): 1,445 students<br>American International School (Murray): 1,363 students

Statewide, this year’s enrollment numbers are largely in keeping with recent trends, according to Utah Board of Education public relations director Mark Peterson. There were slight upticks in the number of students who speak English as a second language and those requiring special education, he said, but not enough of an increase to translate to a percentage change.

“We haven’t grown much more diverse either,” Peterson said. “That seems to be holding steady.”

Utah’s largest school districts<br>Alpine: 78,853 students<br>Davis: 71,908 students<br>Granite: 66,024 students<br>Jordan: 53,519 students<br>Canyons: 33,907<br><br>Utah’s smallest school districts<br>Daggett: 163 students<br>Tintic: 239 students<br>Piute: 274 students<br>Wayne: 447 students<br>Rich: 494 students

Peterson noted that some of Utah’s rural school districts saw enrollment declines despite the addition of more than 7,000 students statewide. Growth and decline both can present financial challenges, Peterson said.

“That is a sizeable number of students who all have to have classrooms and teachers available to them,” he said of the 652,348 children enrolled in public schools. “We’re not seeing such numbers that are going to overly stress the system, but we still are going to need funding.”