From eight schools in 1999 to 36 in 2005 to 110 schools in 2014, charter schools have rapidly grown in popularity in Utah. Charters now serve 11 percent of all public school students in the state.
So what are charter schools anyway?
Charters are a part of the state public school system, which means they receive public funding and don’t charge tuition like private schools do. Anyone can attend a charter school, and the schools have to accept any student that applies. If there are more prospective students than space in a school, enrollees are chosen by lottery. Charter schools are governed by the same state regulations as other public schools when it comes to reporting, testing, hiring, spending and core curriculum.
How do charter schools differ from other public schools?
Charter schools are public schools, but they are a little different. While charters are governed by and overseen by the state school board, they aren’t governed by local school districts. Charters have their own independent board of directors to handle the administrative duties of the school. Also, though charter schools have to follow the same testing and curriculum regulations as district schools do, they have the ability to pursue unique educational opportunities. So there are charters that emphasize technology, music or the theater. There are also charters that serve students who have behavioral problems that make learning difficult in traditional schools.
Charter schools have become very popular in Utah. There are over 61,000 students enrolled in charter schools with thousands more on waiting lists. In 2014 charter schools experienced 12 percent enrollment growth while district school growth was just 0.7 percent. In fact, over the last 10 years a greater and greater proportion of new enrollments has been going to charter schools, peaking at 75 percent in 2015. That’s thousands of students taken out of overburdened district public schools.
Charter Schools Annual Reports: Utah’s Public Charter Schools
Utah Foundation Report: Challenges Facing Utah Charter Schools