Utah’s charter schools don’t have geographical boundaries like traditional schools, but an option in state law to extend preferred enrollment to neighborhood children has helped create a community environment at Canyon Rim Academy, according to the school’s chairman Erik Olson.
In fact, Olson said, the ability for local families to bypass Canyon Rim’s enrollment lottery has done almost too good a job at moving nearby residents to the front of the line.
“It has prevented anyone from outside the two-mile radius from getting into the school,” Olson said.
Administrators want to shrink the Salt Lake City charter school’s preferred enrollment area, Olson said, but legal counsel for the state’s education system have advised that current state law requires either two miles, or nothing.
Olson spoke in favor of legislation on Wednesday that would add two words — “up to” — to state law, clarifying that charter schools can set a boundary of any increment within a two-mile radius for preferred enrollment.
Members of the House Education Committee voted unanimously for the bill, HB245. The bill was also moved to the House’s consent calendar, typically a path for non-controversial bills likely to speedily pass a floor vote.
Amends a state law allowing preferred enrollment for students who live within two miles of a charter school to clarify that schools can set a radius of less than two miles. - Read full text
Jan. 29: Two-word bill on Utah charter schools aims to solve enrollment problem before it starts
Charter school advocates are asking Utah lawmakers to approve a seemingly redundant two-word amendment to state law.
Currently, charters have the option of giving enrollment preference to students who live “within a 2-mile radius” of the school, if that student’s traditional neighborhood campus is at or over capacity.
But House Bill 245 would change the law to “within up to a 2-mile” radius, a difference that bill sponsor Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, says provides additional flexibility to administrators.
“They can prioritize a mile-and-a-half,” Fawson said.
Fawson said he sponsored HB245 at the request of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools. The concern, he said, is that current law could require precisely a 2-mile radius of enrollment preference, which in urban and densely populated areas could result in large numbers of children— potentially exceeding a charter school’s capacity— being bumped to the front of the line.
The issue is hypothetical, Fawson said, as he is not aware of any school facing backlash over its application of the enrollment preference option.
Royce Van Tassell, executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools, said the issue was raised by administrators at Canyon Rim Academy, who are considering less than a 2-mile radius for preferential enrollment.
The school is near the mouth of Parleys Canyon in Salt Lake County. A 2-mile radius from the school, as a crow flies, would include much of Salt Lake City’s Sugar House neighborhood and the eastern portions of Millcreek.
Van Tassell said it’s possible the school would have the legal ability to reduce its enrollment radius under the current law. But school administrators would prefer that state law be clarified, he said, to avoid litigation or other complications.
“They just wanted confidence that if they set a perimeter of less than 2 miles, that that would work,” he said.