More public money for private school vouchers? Utah lawmakers cite demand. The program hasn’t launched yet.

Applications for the Utah Fits All scholarship open Feb. 28, but lawmakers are already asking the state to spend more on the private school voucher program.

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah’s largest-ever private school voucher program hasn’t launched yet, but state lawmakers are already asking to more than triple the amount of public money funneled into it, citing current demand.

Utah’s largest-ever private school voucher program hasn’t launched yet, but state lawmakers are already asking to more than triple the amount of public money funneled into it, citing current demand.

Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, and Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Sandy, requested an $108 million increase in spending for the program starting in fall 2025 during a Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee meeting on Wednesday morning.

If approved, total spending would increase from $42 million in the program’s first year to $150 million in its second year.

[Read more: Everything you need to know about Utah’s new private school scholarship program]

The two lawmakers say the increase is necessary because demand for the vouchers significantly exceeds current appropriations.

“I’m just concerned that we’re going ahead before we see how the program works,” Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, countered on Wednesday.

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 currently provides enough funding for 5,000 students to each receive $8,000 toward private school tuition, textbooks, tutoring and other education-related expenses starting next school year.

The latest ask would allow roughly 18,000 students starting in the 2025-26 school year to receive the $8,000 scholarship.

“The funding that would be required to meet the current demand that we know of, would be a total of $280 million dollars,” said Cullimore. ”We’re not asking for that. We are asking for $150 million.”

Cullimore said lawmakers know what current demand is because nonprofit organization Utah Education Fits All has been helping to collect “pre-applications” in anticipation of the voucher program launch.

Approximately 17,000 parents and 35,000 students have indicated that they plan to apply for the Utah Fits All scholarship, Cullimore said, citing the organization’s database.

“I think what is really important for this program is having the momentum and being able to sustain it,” said Pierucci. “It certainly would be unfortunate if so many people … apply, and word gets out that it’s actually really difficult to get this, and then we see a drop off of people who are applying.”

Organized demand

Utah Education Fits All, which adds the word “education” to the name of the state scholarship program, initially created confusion on its website about the voucher program, claiming as early as last summer that families could “preapply” for the state scholarship via an online form.

“It is misleading,” Ryan Bartlett, a spokesperson for the Utah State Board of Education, previously told The Salt Lake Tribune. “The Utah Education Fits All website is not affiliated with us.”

Families are also not able to “preapply,” Bartlett had said.

Instead, the organization states in an FAQ section of its website that the purpose of having families “preapply” for the program is “to demonstrate demand for the Utah Fits All Scholarship.”

“Through our list we will help families demonstrate the volume of demand for the Utah Fits All Scholarship to our elected representatives for the purpose of seeking an increased appropriation before the first scholarships are awarded for the 2024-25 school year,” the website states.

That organized demand is what Pierucci and Cullimore cited Wednesday when they requested the increase in program funding.

The private school voucher program’s application portal will open Feb. 28. The application window closes April 15.

Utah Education Fits All’s role

Utah Education Fits All has also been working closely with the Utah Fits All program manager, Alliance for Choice in Education (ACE), which was selected in November by USBE to administer and distribute the scholarship funds. The state awarded ACE a $9 million contract to do so.

Representatives from ACE have attended webinars hosted by Utah Education Fits All that are aimed at educating the public about how to apply and how recipients can use the funds.

During a Nov. 28 webinar, Robyn Bagley, executive director for Utah Education Fits All, said she had been talking to ACE “for weeks,” adding that Utah Education Fits All is “prescreening” schools and scholarship applicants for ACE.

ACE officials said that while the organization is not affiliated with Utah Education Fits All, they have accepted invites to attend and speak at webinars.

“ACE will work with any group to promote the Utah Fits All Scholarship Program and ensure accurate and timely information is relayed to parents,” ACE officials said. “No group is acting on behalf, or for, ACE Scholarships to screen or select families or providers that apply for the state program.”

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