The new Utah Fits All voucher program will be managed by a Colorado-based nonprofit
The Utah State Board of Education has chosen a program manager to take care of the new Utah Fits All Scholarship. The Alliance for Choice in Education, a Colorado-based nonprofit also known as ACE Scholarships, will be responsible for overseeing the program and will begin accepting applications on Feb. 28, 2024.
ACE manages scholarships in 12 states, including a privately funded scholarship in Utah.
State lawmakers created the Utah Fits All program during the 2023 legislative session and it will provide up to $8,000 to eligible students to attend a private school or be home-schooled. The program has stirred some controversy and is referred to as an education savings account by supporters. Others say it’s really a voucher program.
According to Utah's law, families living at or below 200% of the federal poverty line will receive preference. The $42.5 million allotted to the scholarship program is enough to cover about 5,000 students.
Advocacy group Utah Education Fits All believes there is more demand than what has been currently allocated, according to its website. The group has been collecting a list of families who are interested in the voucher program and hopes to secure more funding from lawmakers before applications even open.
ACE Scholarships will be responsible for determining who is eligible and for maintaining the accounts for voucher funds. If the number of eligible applicants exceeds the money available, the law states that ACE Scholarships will randomly select who gets a voucher. Annually, parents or students in the program will submit a portfolio to ACE detailing “the student’s educational opportunities and achievements.”
The group will also be in charge of approving schools and providers where voucher recipients can spend the money and making sure those providers stay eligible.
The State Board of Education solicited proposals and chose the program manager. But after that, state law dictates the board’s oversight of ACE Scholarships will be limited.
However, parents can appeal administrative decisions made by ACE Scholarships. Those appeals will be handled by the state board and could include things like denial or use limits on scholarships.
The law directs ACE Scholarships to contract with a certified public accountant to do an annual, random audit of voucher accounts. That report will go to the state board, which can ask for more information.
Starting in 2025, the program manager will also be required to submit a report each year to the Legislature’s Education Interim Committee. That will include how many students from each county received a voucher and how many students are on a waitlist. They will also share how funds were used and what percentage of voucher recipients were enrolled in public school the year before, among other things.
An August report from the Office of the State Auditor pointed out problems with how an existing Utah voucher program, run by Children First Education Fund, has been handled. They also identified areas where more oversight was needed.
ACE Scholarships CEO Norton Rainey said managing the Utah Fits All Scholarship will be the first time they will manage an education savings account program.
“ESAs are the newest thing — the new, shiny object in education in America. And so these programs have just come on the radar in the last couple of years,” Rainey said. “But we're very confident we can manage the program effectively because of our experience over 23 years.”
Rainey said the group is still working out details with the state, but they anticipate announcing more information about the application in December or January.
The application window will close May 15. Families will be notified by May 27 if they’ve been awarded funds. An account where funds will be deposited will be set up by June 3, according to ACE Scholarships.