K-12 EDUCATION

Applications for Utah school vouchers not open yet, despite website claiming ‘pre-apply’ option

Jul 26, 2023, 2:00 PM | Updated: Jul 28, 2023, 7:46 am

a teacher speaks to her students, a website is leading to confusion about school vouchers in utah...

FILE: Students listen as kindergarten teacher Stephanie Cobabe gives a math lesson during a full-day kindergarten class at East Sandy Elementary School in Sandy on Feb. 27, 2023. (Ryan Sun, Deseret News)

(Ryan Sun, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Board of Education said a website claiming to let families “pre-apply” for those newly passed school vouchers is confusing people into thinking they’re getting pre-qualified.

The website is called Utah Education Fits All, just a slightly different name than the Utah Fits All Scholarship.

Utah Fits All Scholarship is the name of the hotly contested school choice program passed this last legislative session that also tied in teachers’ raises. It allows families to apply for up to $8,000 in state money that can be used to send kids to private, home, or micro-schools.

A large banner on the homepage of the Utah Education Fits All website read, “Enter the Utah Fits All Scholarship… Be the first, pre-apply today!” 

Clicking that link takes you to a form that said, “As soon as the scholarship portal goes live, you will be the first to receive access.”

After this story was initially published, the Chair of the Board, Robyn Bagley responded to KSL NewsRadio saying clarifying language had been added to the website. It now reads:

Add your information now and as soon as the scholarship portal goes live, you will immediately be sent an access link. Utah Education Fits All will provide you with instructions and a link to take you directly to the application portal the minute it opens!

The website is not an official state portal to any applications, rather Bagley clarified that it’s a way for families run get information about the program.

“Currently, there is no other outlet a parent can access to find accurate information or to have their questions answered about Utah’s new education savings account law or to find out when the application will become available,” Bagley said.

Prior to the website changes, the Board said it was causing confusion.

“There has been some confusion about people applying for the program and thinking that they’re immediately being considered for it,” said Utah State Board of Education Director of Strategic Communications Ryan Bartlett.

“People who are ‘pre-applying’…are not officially being added to the Utah Fits All Scholarship program. Their name is being put on a list where there then be later sent to that program to be reviewed with all the other applicants,” Bartlett said.

The website said that the names they collect will be used in part to, “demonstrate demand for the scholarship to our elected representatives.”

How applications for Utah school vouchers will work

The Board is in charge of picking a program manager who will run the voucher program. They’ll put out a call in September to hire someone, and have them chosen by December, Bartlet said. 

A portal to apply for scholarships won’t open until next March. The money allocated allows for 5,000 students to be chosen, and some criteria like income are considered for priority.

Bartlet said there is no “first” priority given to people who fill out the form on this website.

The site lists Bagley, a longtime advocate for school vouchers, as the chair of its board.

Bagley said the website has never claimed to be signing people up:

We have never claimed to be the program manager and have always had clarifying language on our website not only explaining the facts about how the scholarship works but also when the actual application portal is statutorily required to open. We have now added even more information in additional places to provide further clarification. We want families to be ready and equipped with all the information they need to apply and to let their legislators know they are grateful for the Utah Fits All Scholarship and would like the opportunity to receive one.

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Applications for Utah school vouchers not open yet, despite website claiming ‘pre-apply’ option