Everything you need to know about Utah’s new private school scholarship program

From the application process to how families can receive and manage “Utah Fits All Scholarship” funds, The Salt Lake Tribune has answers.

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune) What you need to know about the Utah Fits All scholarship, from the application process to how families can receive and mange funds from the state's largest-ever voucher program.

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Applications for Utah’s largest-ever school voucher program are set to open on Feb. 28. Soon after, the state will start doling out roughly $42 million to families to use toward private school tuition, textbooks, tutoring and other education-related expenses.

The “Utah Fits All Scholarship” voucher program was passed under HB215 during last year’s legislative session, despite opposition from teachers and nearly every education organization in Utah. It provides enough funding for 5,000 students to each receive $8,000 starting in the 2024-25 school year.

The program has been touted by conservatives as a way to give parents and kids more choice. Bill sponsor Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, previously said it’s meant to help lower income families afford private schools.

But voucher opponents have argued it saps needed funding from Utah’s public school system, and that low-income families won’t be able to use the scholarship money effectively, because the average private school tuition in Utah is nearly $11,000.

As the Utah Fits All Scholarship readies to launch, here’s what we know about the program.

Who will administer the Utah Fits All scholarship ?

Under the bill that created the scholarship, the Utah State Board of Education was required to hire a program manager to administer and distribute the funds.

Following a bidding period, USBE in November awarded a $9 million contract to the Alliance for Choice in Education (ACE).

ACE is a Colorado-based nonprofit that offers private school scholarships to low-income students to help expand school choice in the U.S., according to its website. The organization is active in 12 states, including Utah, the website states.

ACE began working in Utah two years ago and has since partnered with 26 private schools, ACE officials said. In its time here, the nonprofit has granted 464 scholarships to low-income students, according to its application to become the Utah Fits All program manager, obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through an open records request.

Through those scholarships, ACE paid up to 50% of private school tuition per student — or a maximum of $3,000 per year for grades K-8, or $4,000 per year for high school, according to its website.

ACE also manages school-choice tax credit programs in four states: Arkansas, Louisiana, Kansas and Montana, according to its Utah Fits All proposal. The programs allow individuals and companies to earn tax credits by donating money to nonprofit scholarship funds.

When does the Utah Fits All scholarship application portal open?

The state will begin accepting Utah Fits All scholarship applications on Feb. 28, beginning at 8 a.m. The application window closes April 15.

Who is eligible for the scholarship ?

All K-12 students who are residents of Utah are eligible. But if they are selected, recipients may not be enrolled in public school full time for the school year for which they are awarded scholarship funds.

How much is the scholarship amount?

Each student selected for the scholarship will receive $8,000 for the school year. That money will not roll over to the following year. ACE encourages families to use all of it and budget accordingly.

What can the scholarship money be used for?

ACE is still developing guidance on eligible “qualified expenses” and plans to release it as soon as possible, officials said. But in general, scholarship money may be used for the following:

  • Private school tuition

  • Tutoring

  • Textbooks

  • School fees and summer programs

  • Educational software and applications

  • Testing and exam fees

Do I have to use the scholarship for private school tuition?

No. Children who are homeschooled are eligible for the scholarship and may use it toward qualified educational expenses. Students enrolled part time in public school are also eligible.

How are students selected for the scholarship?

Though all K-12 children are eligible, Utah law requires preference be given to low-income families.

Applications will be prioritized in the following order:

  1. Students who participated in Utah Fits All the previous school year (not applicable for 2024-25).

  2. Students with a family income at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, or about $60,000 for a family of four.

  3. Siblings of students who participated in the program the prior year (not applicable for 2024-25).

  4. Students with a family income between 200% and 555% of the federal poverty level, or a range of about $60,000 to $166,500 for a family of four.

  5. All other applicants.

What will the application process look like?

Applicants must apply online and will need to provide the following information:

  • A phone number and date of birth. ACE will use this information to verify Utah residency.

  • A copy of a government-issued photo ID.

  • Household income and household size.

  • Proof of income, by linking to an online employer payroll or bank via a “secure process.” Applicants may also choose to upload this documentation manually.

  • Information for each student applying for the program, including name, date of birth and grade level.

The Utah Fits All website notes that while applicants are not required to verify their income, if they do not, they will be placed in the last enrollment preference category. If a family is verified to already be receiving government assistance, like SNAP, they will not be required to provide additional income information.

When will I know if my child has been selected?

Families will be notified no later than April 18 if their child or children have been selected for a scholarship.

Within 24-48 hours of applying, families will receive a notification confirming their eligibility in the program, along with their assigned enrollment preference category. This is not an official award notice.

Students may be placed on a waitlist if the number of applicants exceeds available funds. Families will be able to check their place in line through the application portal.

Do I have to choose a private school before applying?

No. Applicants will not be asked to specify a school during the application process, ACE officials said.

However, if approved for the scholarship, families may only choose from a list of schools that have been approved and vetted by ACE. That list is not yet available, but schools may begin applying to participate in Utah Fits All beginning Feb. 1, ACE officials said.

Interested applicants will be able to view approved schools online once available.

How and when will money be distributed?

According to ACE, families will manage their funds online or on their mobile device via an application called ClassWallet. Funds will hit their account in early August.

How does ClassWallet work?

ClassWallet is a digital wallet platform where all scholarship accounts will be created, one for each student, ACE officials said. There are a few ways parents can use it.

First, through an option called “DirectPay,” parents can pay tuition and other expenses using the scholarship funds. The payment is initiated when the parent uploads the invoice from the school or approved vendor and when ACE approves the purchase.

Second, parents can “shop” within the ClassWallet platform from a pre-approved marketplace of vendors, which includes stores like Staples, Office Max and Michaels. Parents will only see items or services that are approved based on the legislation, said ACE officials.

If parents do not see an item or service on the marketplace, they can use their own money to purchase it and seek reimbursement on ClassWallet by uploading receipts. They will be reimbursed so long as it is considered a qualified expense.

My child already receives a scholarship. Are they still eligible for the Utah Fits All scholarship?

Utah law prohibits students who receive the Carson Smith Scholarship or Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship from also participating in the Utah Fits All program.

The law is otherwise “silent,” said USBE officials, about the use of other scholarship sources.

What happens if I want to change schools?

If a parent withdraws their child from a specific school or program before tuition payments have been made, they can at any time select a new school available through ClassWallet, to which they can apply the Utah Fits All Scholarship funds.

If a parent withdraws their child from a specific school or program after a tuition payment has been made but before the start of the semester, they must:

  • Notify the school and ACE in writing.

  • ACE will then make a request in writing to the school for the total amount of funds to be reimbursed within 30 days

  • If there are enough funds remaining, parents may immediately choose a new school and make a payment through ClassWallet’s “direct pay” feature. If not, they must wait for the funds to be placed back into the account or pay using their own personal funds and request reimbursement later.

If a parent withdraws their child from a specific school or program during the semester and after tuition payments have been made, they must:

  • Notify the school and ACE in writing.

  • ACE will then calculate the prorated amount to be returned to the scholarship student’s account, based on the total cost of the program or total semester payment and the number of days enrolled in the course or program.

  • After the school returns the prorated funds, an updated balance will be available for review on the student’s ClassWallet dashboard and available for immediate use.

  • If there are enough funds remaining, parents may immediately choose a new school and make a payment through ClassWallet’s “direct pay” feature. If not, they must wait for the funds to be placed back into the account or pay using their own personal funds and request reimbursement later.

What if I don’t agree with a decision made by ACE ?

Parents and students have the right to appeal certain decisions made by ACE. Those include scholarship expense denials and determinations regarding enrollment eligibility, suspension or disqualification.

Parents must file a written request within 10 days of receiving the decision they want to appeal. ACE will then forward the request to the state’s superintendent within two business days of receiving it.

The superintendent must then provide written notice of their final determination within 30 days of the date the appeal was submitted to ACE.

How will ACE ensure scholarship funds are used appropriately?

ACE officials said misuse of funds should be “drastically reduced” by having parents use ClassWallet to shop with pre-approved vendors. ACE will also be reviewing receipts for purchases made outside of ClassWallet and will deny reimbursement for items that are not considered qualified expenses.

For more information, visit ufascholarship.com or send an email to info@UFAScholarship.com.