Opinion: The Utah Fits All Scholarship won’t destroy public schools.

It provides a method for those students who don’t thrive in the public school system to find something that meets their needs.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Students let out of Desert Sky Elementary, Eagle Mountain’s new elementary school on Monday, Aug. 21, 2023.

Recent polling from the Deseret News shows that 84% of parents are happy with their public school. These parents and families laud the academic support, extracurricular activities and feeling of community that they get from their local public school.

And that is fantastic. I am very happy for those students that have an education and model that fits what they need and want for their children.

But what about the other 16% of families who aren’t sure or feel that the school is not a good fit?

As a former principal in a public school, I can tell you that there are definitely students who don’t fit into the public school model. I spent much of my time working with these students, trying to find answers for their needs. But sometimes it is the model that is the problem. They need something else.

Don’t they deserve to find an educational opportunity that works for them?

Yes. Yes, they do. That is what the Utah Fits All Scholarship does. It provides a method for those students who don’t thrive in the public school system to find something that meets their needs.

Cara Fitzpatrick, in her book “Is School Choice Destroying Public Education?” finds that “contrary to what some critics claim, traditional public schools have seen some positive effects from competition.”

That is supported with data. Patrick Wolf from the University of Arkansas reviewed 27 of the most relevant studies on education choice and its effect on public schools. He found that 25 of the studies showed a positive effect on the schools, while two found no effect. He states, “No empirical study of the competitive effects of private school choice programs concludes that the effects are negative.”

What is apparent is that implementing these programs provides a better outcome for all students, whether they use the program or not.

I saw this during my time as a principal. During the early months of the 2020-21 school year, my district tried to have classroom teachers provide both in-person and online instruction. It was apparent early on that it wasn’t working. Students expressed they were confused, parents said they were frustrated and teachers said they were burnt out.

Some online students started leaving the school for better online programs.

By the end of the first quarter, the district created a dedicated online school. Students said they were getting what they needed, and parents and teachers expressed they were happier. It was a win-win.

And education choice policies provide the same win-win. Those who like their public schools get to keep their public schools. But for those who don’t fit into that model, the Utah Fits All Scholarship and similar programs across the country provide a much needed alternative for their education.

Jon England

Jon England is the education policy analyst at Libertas Institute. He is a 14-year veteran of public schools. He taught both fifth and sixth grades, receiving Weber District’s E+ Team Award. Jon received his bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Utah and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Western Governors University. He spent time in the Marine Corps and separated as a sergeant in 2006. He proudly homeschools his children with his wife.

The Salt Lake Tribune is committed to creating a space where Utahns can share ideas, perspectives and solutions that move our state forward. We rely on your contributions to do this. Find out how to share your opinion here, and email us at voices@sltrib.com.