Utah Fits All vouchers all awarded. Here’s how families can spend $8k for next school year.

Nearly 10,000 awardees for the new scholarships have been selected — and families say they’re thrilled about their kids opportunities for this fall.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Megan and Kaden Mattinson work with their homeschooled children Colten and Aspen in Springville on Thursday, May 9, 2024.

A traditional school setting for Megan Mattinson’s nine-year-old daughter with special needs just wasn’t working.

Despite her individualized education plan — designed to meet the specific educational needs of a student with disabilities — she was still falling behind. So last year Mattinson started homeschooling her daughter and her younger son.

“That has made all the difference,” Mattinson said. “She’s now excited about [education] … She actually loves it. She asks for more challenging things.”

While homeschooling has helped close the gaps in her daughter’s education, Mattinson said, the family has not been able to afford additional services like speech or behavioral therapy that would greatly benefit their children.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Megan Mattinson looks on as her homeschooled children Colten and Aspen work on assignments in their Springville home on Thursday, May 9, 2024.

That’s why she applied for the Utah Fits All scholarship, hoping to secure at least an $8,000 piece of the $80 million in public funds available through school vouchers.

Initially, the state allocated $42 million for the fall — enough funding for about 5,000 students to each receive the allotted $8,000 share. But in late February, lawmakers injected another $40 million into the pot, raising the number of available scholarships to 10,000.

She was thrilled when both of her children were granted a scholarship, totaling $16,000, which Mattinson plans to use for those services the family has otherwise been unable to afford.

“We’re really grateful that we were given that opportunity,” she said.

Mattinson’s children are among roughly 10,000 other Utah students who have been selected for a scholarship through the state’s largest-ever school voucher program.

The $8,000 scholarship can be used beginning this fall for private school tuition, children’s ballet lessons, therapy services, homeschooling expenses and more.

But some might consider the Mattinsons lucky. Only a third of applicants were selected as the number of applications far exceeded the number of scholarships available.

Vouchers by the numbers

According to the Alliance for Choice in Education (ACE), the organization hired by the Utah State Board of Education to manage the voucher program and application process, 15,914 applications were submitted, representing 27,270 students, with some families submitting one application for multiple siblings.

Of those, 9,890 scholarships were granted to low-income families, or 100% of all scholarships doled out. Utah law mandates that low-income families receive priority over all other income levels when there are more applicants than scholarships available.

“Low income” refers to households earning at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, which is approximately $60,000 for a family of four. No families outside of this income bracket received a scholarship, according to ACE officials.

As to how those families intend to use the money (private school, homeschooling, extracurriculars, etc.), ACE said that currently is unknown. However, families can begin accessing their spending accounts starting in early August – and the possibilities are nearly endless.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

How Utah families can use the scholarship

Utah law allows students who are homeschooled and attending microschools to use vouchers for a variety of “educational expenses,” defined broadly as expenses “related to extracurricular activities, field trips, educational supplements and other educational experiences.”

But there are some limitations. For example, the law prohibits the use of scholarship funds for transportation, like a plane ticket, ACE officials said. Theme parks such as Disney World would also not qualify as allowable extracurricular expenses. However, a basketball hoop or a season ski pass for a student would be approved expenses under the law, they said.

Still, that money can only be directly spent through “qualifying providers” that ACE vets and selects. So far, ACE has approved more than 160 providers, ranging from monthly subscriptions for new educational tools and materials to online film programs to virtual schools.

If a family would prefer to go to a provider that ACE has not vetted, they can, but they would have to put up their own funds and request reimbursement. The list of vetted providers likely will continue to grow, because there is no deadline for providers to apply to participate in the program, according to ACE’s website.

Ronni Peck, who lives in La Verkin City, said all three of her school-aged children received the scholarship, but she is still deciding how best to use it.

Her top choice is spending it on tuition for her kids, who are currently enrolled in public school, to attend a microschool called Acton Academy in St. George, about a 30-minute drive south of La Verkin.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Aspen Mattinson works on a homeschool assignment in her Springville home on Thursday, May 9, 2024.

Microschools are a hybrid of homeschooling and private schooling that operate on a small scale. They have been gaining popularity in Utah and other conservative-led states where there is a strong push to expand school choice options.

Peck said she feels Acton Academy champions “passion-led” learning over other traditional models.

“Outside of the regular public school world, I love that you can individualize education,” Peck said. “You can choose things that kids are actually interested in. Even if it’s something like YouTube, [they] can learn video editing software.”

Peck said her affinity for “passion-driven” education models stems from her decadelong experience as an on-set tutor for child actors when she lived in California.

“[The scholarship] is going to allow me to choose a different educational path for my kids that would not have been an opportunity before, so I’m really excited about it.”

Peck said she believes all families deserve that same opportunity and hopes that funding for next year will be increased.

“The world is changing completely, and people are learning how to create their own success,” Peck said. “And I think that education needs to adapt as well. Traditional public schools no longer fit the [needs of] all students.”

Clarification • May 15, 10 a.m.: The story has been updated to clarify that families can use personal funds and request reimbursement if they chose to go to a provider that is not vetted by ACE.