Measuring Up

 



Utah

TOTAL SCORE:
134 out of 228

Rank: 25 out of 43

Year Charter School Law Was Enacted:  1998
Estimated Number of Public Charter Schools in 2013-14:  95
Estimated Number of Public Charter School Students in 2013-14:  54,906

Utah made some modifications to its charter school law in 2013.  While these changes are a step in the right direction, they were not significant enough to affect Utah’s score and ranking.

Utah’s score increased from 131 points in 2013 to 134 points this year.  The score changed because of adjustments in our methodology for Component #3 (Multiple Authorizers Available) and Component #4 (Authorizer and Overall Program Accountability System Required).

Its ranking went from #20 to #25.  This drop had more to do with the aggressive changes made in other states than with any steps backward in Utah.

Potential areas for improvement include removing restrictions on charter school growth, ensuring authorizing accountability, beefing up its requirements for performance-based charter contracts, enacting statutory guidelines for relationships between charter schools and educational service providers, providing more operational autonomy to charter schools, and ensuring equitable operational funding.

Do Utah's laws align to the model law?

Model Law Component

Matches

Utah's Charter Law

Score

1. No Caps

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

In 2013, Utah enacted a budget that stated the legislature intends that the enrollment in charter schools in the 2014-15 school year may increase up to 7,650 students over the projected enrollment of 56,927 in the 2013-14 school year.

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1A. No limits are placed on the number of public charter schools or students (and no geographic limits).

1B. If caps exist, adequate room for growth.

2. A Variety of Public Charter Schools Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Utah law allows new start-ups, public school conversions, and virtual schools.

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2A. New start-ups.

2B. Public school conversions.

2C. Virtual schools.

3. Multiple Authorizers Available

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Utah law permits local school boards, the state charter school board, and designated higher education institutions to authorize charter schools, subject to state board of education approval. There is some authorizing activity by local school boards and the state charter school board.

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3A. The state allows two or more authorizing options (e.g., school districts and a state charter schools commission) for each applicant with direct application to each authorizer.

4. Authorizer & Overall Program Accountability System Required

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Utah law includes a small number of the elements of the model law's authorizer and overall program accountability system.

While the law does not require the legislature and governor to regularly review the performance of the state charter school board as an authorizer, they can do so at any time. In addition, the ability of the state charter school board to continue authorizing can be removed by the legislature and governor (the entities that gave it that authority).

The law does not require at least a registration process for local school boards to affirm their interest in chartering to the state, does not require an application process for other eligible authorizing entities, does not require authorizer submission of annual report which summarizes the agency’s authorizing activities as well as the performance of its school portfolio, does not require a regular review process by authorizer oversight body of local school board and higher education authorizers, does not require authorizer oversight body with authority to sanction local school board and higher education authorizers including removal of authorizer right to approve schools, and does not require a periodic formal evaluation of overall state charter school program and outcomes.

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4A. At least a registration process for local school boards to affirm their interest in chartering to the state.

4B. Application process for other eligible authorizing entities.

4C. Authorizer submission of annual report, which summarizes the agency’s authorizing activities as well as the performance of its school portfolio.

4D. A regular review process by authorizer oversight body.

4E. Authorizer oversight body with authority to sanction authorizers, including removal of authorizer right to approve schools.

4F. Periodic formal evaluation of overall state charter school program and outcomes.

5. Adequate Authorizer Funding

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Utah funds its state charter board through an annual legislative appropriation each year. The amount varies but is generally considered adequate for the board’s basic work.

The law does not provide for funding for local school board authorizers, but permits higher education institutions to charge up to 3% of the revenue the charter school receives from the state in the current fiscal year in the first two years that a charter school is in operation as an annual oversight fee. Beginning with the third year that a charter school is in operation, an annual oversight fee may not exceed the product of 1% of the revenue a charter school receives from the state in the current fiscal year.

Utah law requires all state agencies including the state charter board, school districts, and charter schools to publicly report their expenditures.

Utah law specifies that the state charter board may provide services to its charter schools at the discretion of the charter school and that a district-authorized school may contract with the district for services, but the law does not clearly prohibit authorizers from requiring schools to purchase services from them. It also doesn't require a separate contract for any services purchased from an authorizer by a school.

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5A. Adequate funding from authorizing fees (or other sources).

5B. Guaranteed funding from authorizing fees (or from sources not subject to annual legislative appropriations).

5C. Requirement to publicly report detailed authorizer expenditures.

5D. Separate contract for any services purchased from an authorizer by a school.

5E. Prohibition on authorizers requiring schools to purchase services from them.

6. Transparent Charter Application, Review, and Decisionmaking Processes

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Utah law sets forth major elements to be addressed in a school’s charter and requires that these elements be considered in advance by the applicant, thus implying general application elements.

The law states application requirements specific to conversion schools. The law does not address additional application elements specific to virtual schools or education service providers. In practice, the state charter board has a separate application for virtual charter schools.

Regulations allow existing charter schools authorized by the state charter board to apply for up to three satellite campuses and set forth additional application requirements for such campuses. These provisions aren’t applicable to charter schools authorized by local school boards or higher educational institutions.

Utah law requires the state charter school board to request individuals, groups of individuals, or not-for-profit legal entities to submit an application to the state charter school board to establish a charter school that employs new and creative methods to meet the unique learning styles and needs of students, such as a military charter school, a charter school whose mission is to enhance learning opportunities for students at risk of academic failure, a charter school whose focus is career and technical education, a single gender charter school, or a charter school with an international focus that provides opportunities for the exchange of students or teachers. In addition to these types of schools, the law provides that the state charter school board shall request applications for other types of charter schools that meet the unique learning styles and needs of students. These provisions aren’t applicable to charter schools authorized by local school boards or higher educational institutions.

Utah law requires authorizers to make charter approval and denial decisions in a public meeting and state reasons for denial in writing. It allows denied applicants to appeal to the state board of education.

The law does not require authorizers to issue requests for proposals including application requirements and approval criteria and does not require authorizers to thoroughly evaluate each application including an in-person interview and a public meeting.

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6A. Application elements for all schools.

6B. Additional application elements specific to conversion schools.

6C. Additional application elements specific to virtual schools.

6D. Additional application elements specific when using educational service providers.

6E. Additional application elements specific to replications.

6F. Authorizer-issued request for proposals (including application requirements and approval criteria).

6G. Thorough evaluation of each application including an in-person interview and a public meeting.

6H. All charter approval or denial decisions made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for denials in writing.

7. Performance-Based Charter Contracts Required

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Utah law requires a written contractual agreement to be executed following the approval of a charter application. The law sets forth a list of major issues to be addressed in the charter contract, including the roles, powers, and responsibilities for the school.

However, the law does not require the contract to address the roles, powers, and responsibilities of the authorizer, define academic and operational performance expectations by which the school will be judged based on a performance framework, and include requirements addressing the unique environments of virtual schools. It also does not limit the duration of charter terms. As such, charters do not expire in Utah but they may be revoked.

Overall, many of the pieces for performance-based charter contracts have been implemented for schools authorized by the state charter school board, but these pieces are not required of all authorizers nor are they codified in Utah law or rule.

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7A. Being created as a separate document from the application and executed by the governing board of the charter school and the authorizer.

7B. Defining the roles, powers, and responsibilities for the school and its authorizer.

7C. Defining academic and operational performance expectations by which the school will be judged, based on a performance framework that includes measures and metrics for, at a minimum, student academic proficiency and growth, achievement gaps, attendance, recurrent enrollment, postsecondary readiness (high schools), financial performance, and board stewardship (including compliance).

7D. Providing an initial term of five operating years (or a longer term with periodic high-stakes reviews.

7E. Including requirements addressing the unique environments of virtual schools, if applicable.

8. Comprehensive Charter School Monitoring and Data Collection Processes

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Utah law requires each authorizer to visit its charter schools at least once during their first and fifth years of operation, provide a written report to each school after each visit, and establish a process for reviewing every charter school once every five years. It also requires local school board and higher education institution authorizers to annually review and evaluate the performance of charter schools and hold them accountable for performance.

For state-chartered schools, regulations require an accountability review process including the creation of charter school accountability plans, annual review of student achievement, quarterly review of financial data, annual site visits or random audits, and other forms of regular ongoing oversight.

The law does not require authorizers to produce and publish annual school performance reports. However, Utah law requires charter schools to file the same annual reports required of other public schools in the state, including an annual financial audit report filed with the state auditor. These reports are public.

The law requires an authorizer to notify a charter school’s governing board in writing of any noncompliance deficiencies and provide reasonable opportunity to remedy the deficiency. If the school does not remedy the deficiency within the established timeline, the law permits the authorizer to remove a school director or finance officer, remove governing board members, appoint an interim director or mentor to work with the charter school, or terminate the charter. The state regulations also specify sanctions short of revocation that the state charter board may exercise.

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8A. The collection and analysis of student outcome data at least annually by authorizers (consistent with performance framework outlined in the contract).

8B. Financial accountability for charter schools (e.g., Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, independent annual audit reported to authorizer).

8C. Authorizer authority to conduct or require oversight activities.

8D. Annual school performance reports which are made public.

8E. Authorizer notification to their schools of perceived problems, with opportunities to remedy such problems.

8F. Authorizer authority to take appropriate corrective actions or exercise sanctions short of revocation.

9. Clear Processes for Renewal, Nonrenewal, and Revocation Decisions

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

Charter contracts in Utah do not expire or require renewal; they perpetuate indefinitely unless revoked. Therefore, the law does not set forth requirements, criteria, processes, or other guidance for renewal or non-renewal. The law sets forth general grounds for revocation of a charter.

Utah law requires an authorizer planning to revoke a charter to notify the school’s governing body and, if the charter school is a qualifying charter school with outstanding bonds issued in accordance with the state’s Charter School Credit Enhancement Program, the Utah Charter School Finance Authority in writing of the planned termination and the reasons for it. It also requires the authorizer to give the school an informal hearing, with timely notice, if requested. If the authorizer proposes to terminate the charter of a qualifying charter school with outstanding bonds issued in accordance with the state’s Charter School Credit Enhancement Program, the law requires the authorizer to conduct a hearing. The law provides that an authorizer may not terminate the charter of a qualifying charter school with outstanding bonds issued in accordance with the state’s Charter School Credit Enhancement Program without mutual agreement of the Utah Charter School Finance Authority and the authorizer.

The law requires revocation decisions to be made in a public meeting, with reasons for revocation stated in writing. It allows charter schools to appeal termination decisions to the state board of education.

The law sets forth essential steps for charter schools to follow in the event of closure. The law does not explicitly state the authorizer’s role and responsibility in overseeing school closure to ensure the protocol is followed, but it does require the authorizer to ensure the completion of a closing school’s final audit.

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9A. Authorizer must issue school performance renewal reports to schools whose charter will expire the following year.

9B. Schools seeking renewal must apply for it.

9C. Authorizers must issue renewal application guidance that provides an opportunity for schools to augment their performance record and discuss improvements and future plans.

9D. Clear criteria for renewal and nonrenewal/revocation.

9E. Authorizers must ground renewal decisions based on evidence regarding the school’s performance over the term of the charter contract (in accordance with the performance framework set forth in the charter contract).

9F. Authorizer authority to vary length of charter renewal contract terms based on performance or other issues.

9G. Authorizers must provide charter schools with timely notification of potential revocation or non-renewal (including reasons) and reasonable time to respond.

9H. Authorizers must provide charter schools with due process for nonrenewal and revocation decisions (e.g., public hearing, submission of evidence).

9I. All charter renewal, non-renewal, and revocation decisions made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for non-renewals and revocations in writing.

9J. Authorizers must have school closure protocols to ensure timely parent notification, orderly student and record transitions, and property and asset disposition.

10. Educational Service Providers (ESPs) Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Utah law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for educational service providers. The law permits charter schools to contract with all types of educational service providers. However, there are no statutory provisions guiding any charter application requirements for educational service providers, performance contracts between the school and service provider, authorizer approval of contracts, and school governing boards operating completely independent of any educational service provider.

Although the law does not directly address potential conflicts of interest between a charter school board and service provider, it does prohibit a charter school officer or relative of a charter school officer from having a financial interest in a contract or other transaction involving the charter school, except for a reasonable contract of employment. This prohibition addresses some but not all conflicts of interest that might arise in the context of service contracts.

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10A. All types of educational service providers (both for-profit and non-profit) explicitly allowed to operate all or parts of schools.

10B. The charter application requires 1) performance data for all current and past schools operated by the ESP, including documentation of academic achievement and (if applicable) school management success; and 2) explanation and evidence of the ESP’s capacity for successful growth while maintaining quality in existing schools.

10C. A performance contract is required between the independent public charter school board and the ESP, setting forth material terms including but not limited to: performance evaluation measures; methods of contract oversight and enforcement by the charter school board; compensation structure and all fees to be paid to the ESP; and conditions for contract renewal and termination.

10D. The material terms of the ESP performance contract must be approved by the authorizer prior to charter approval.

10E. School governing boards operating as entities completely independent of any educational service provider (e.g., must retain independent oversight authority of their charter schools, and cannot give away their authority via contract).

10F. Existing and potential conflicts of interest between the two entities are required to be disclosed and explained in the charter application.

11. Fiscally and Legally Autonomous Schools with Independent Public Charter School Boards

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Utah law requires charter schools to be established as nonprofit corporations governed by independent governing boards.

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11A. Fiscally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to receive and disburse funds, incur debt, and pledge, assign or encumber assets as collateral).

11B. Legally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to enter into contracts and leases, sue and be sued in their own names, and acquire real property).

11C. School governing boards created specifically to govern their charter schools.

12. Clear Student Recruitment, Enrollment, and Lottery Procedures

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Utah law requires that charter schools be open to all resident students in the state.

The law requires that if a school is oversubscribed, students must be selected on a random basis.

The law requires enrollment preference for previously enrolled students within conversions.

The law allows the following optional enrollment preferences, but does not limit such preferences to any particular percentage: students of a parent who has actively participated in the development of the charter school, siblings of students presently enrolled in the charter school, a student of a parent who is employed by the charter school, students matriculating between charter schools offering similar programs that are governed by the same governing body, students matriculating from one charter school to another pursuant to a matriculation agreement between the charter schools that is approved by the state charter school board, and students who reside within the school district in which the charter school is located, the municipality in which the charter school is located, or a two-mile radius from the charter school.

The law provides that a charter school whose mission is to enhance learning opportunities for refugees or children of refugee families may give an enrollment preference to refugees or children of refugee families. It also provides that a charter school whose mission is to enhance learning opportunities for English language learners may give an enrollment preference to English language learners.

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12A. Open enrollment to any student in the state.

12B. Lottery requirements.

12C. Required enrollment preferences for previously enrolled students within conversions, prior year students within chartered schools, siblings of enrolled students enrolled at a charter school.

12D. Optional enrollment preference for children of a school’s founders, governing board members, and full-time employees, not exceeding 10% of the school’s total student population.

13. Automatic Exemptions from Many State and District Laws and Regulations

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Utah law provides automatic exemptions from a small number of laws, but requires charter schools to apply for waivers for most exemptions.

The law requires charter school teachers to be either state-licensed or on the basis of demonstrated competency, qualified to teach under alternative certification or authorization programs.

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13A. Exemptions from all laws, except those covering health, safety, civil rights, student accountability, employee criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information, and generally accepted accounting principles.

13B. Exemption from state teacher certification requirements.

14. Automatic Collective Bargaining Exemption

weight = 3 | Possible total = 12

Utah law provides that charter schools are exempt from district collective bargaining agreements.

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14A. Charter schools authorized by non-local board authorizers are exempt from participation in any outside collective bargaining agreements.

14B. Charter schools authorized by local boards are exempt from participation in any district collective bargaining agreements.

15. Multischool Charter Contracts and/or Multicharter Contract Boards Allowed

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Regulations allow existing charter schools authorized by the state charter board to apply for up to three satellite schools by amending the original charter. Regulations also state that a satellite school shall be independently accountable for financial reporting and its own AYP report.

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15A. Oversee multiple schools linked under a single contract with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

15B. Hold multiple charter contracts with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

16. Extracurricular and Interscholastic Activities Eligibility and Access

weight = 1 | Possible total = 4

The law provides that charter school students are eligible to participate in all interscholastic leagues, competitions, awards, scholarships, and recognition programs available to non-charter public school students. The law is silent on charter school employee eligibility for public educator recognition programs.

Utah law allows charter school students to participate, on a state-established fee basis, in extracurricular activities at district schools, if those activities are not offered by the charter school.

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16A. Laws or regulations explicitly state that charter school students and employees are eligible to participate in all interscholastic leagues, competitions, awards, scholarships, and recognition programs available to non-charter public school students and employees.

16B. Laws or regulations explicitly allow charter school students in schools not providing extra-curricular and interscholastic activities to have access to those activities at non-charter public schools for a fee by a mutual agreement.

17. Clear Identification of Special Education Responsibilities

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Utah law provides that a charter school is the LEA for special education purposes. In addition to federal funding, Utah law provides funding for special education students. However, the law does not specify how low-incidence, high-cost cases are to be funded.

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17A. Clarity regarding which entity is the local education agency (LEA) responsible for providing special education services.

17B. Clarity regarding funding for low-incident, high-cost services for charter schools (in the same amount and/or in a manner similar to other LEAs).

18. Equitable Operational Funding and Equal Access to All State and Federal Categorical Funding

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

The state law includes some the model law’s provisions for equitable operational and categorical funding, but there is no evidence of the amount of funds charters receive versus districts.

The funding formula in law does not currently provide charter schools with equitable operational funding, with the percentage of district per-pupil operating funds that charter schools receive fluctuating from year to year.

Utah law provides that all charter schools are eligible to receive federal funds if they meet all applicable federal requirements and comply with relevant federal regulations and that local board-authorized schools must receive funding on the same basis that other district schools receive funding.

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18A. Equitable operational funding statutorily driven.

18B. Equal access to all applicable categorical federal and state funding, and clear guidance on the pass-through of such funds.

18C. Funding for transportation similar to school districts.

19. Equitable Access to Capital Funding and Facilities

weight = 4 | Possible total = 16

As part of the local revenue replacement program, Utah law provides an additional annual per-pupil appropriation for charter schools to replace some of the local property tax revenue that traditionally covers maintenance and operation, capital projects, and debt service. The law requires that a minimum of 10% of these monies must be expended for facilities. This facilities dedication was roughly $170 per pupil in Fiscal Year 2012. However, many schools use more than the minimum of 10% of these monies to cover facilities costs.

Utah law provides a charter school revolving loan fund that provides loans to charter schools for the costs of constructing, renovating, and purchasing charter school facilities. There is approximately $6 million in this fund.

Utah law creates the state charter school financing authority for charter facility financing. It provides charter schools with access to tax-exempt bond financing through issuers at the county and municipal levels.

Utah law creates the charter school credit enhancement program to assist qualified charter schools in obtaining favorable financing by providing the state’s moral obligation and providing a means of replenishing a qualifying charter school’s debt service reserve fund. The state appropriated $3 million to this program in FY 2013.

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19A. A per-pupil facilities allowance which annually reflects actual average district capital costs.

19B. A state grant program for charter school facilities.

19C. A state loan program for charter school facilities.

19D. Equal access to tax-exempt bonding authorities or allow charter schools to have their own bonding authority.

19E. A mechanism to provide credit enhancement for public charter school facilities.

19F. Equal access to existing state facilities programs available to non-charter public schools.

19G. Right of first refusal to purchase or lease at or below fair market value a closed, unused, or underused public school facility or property.

19H. Prohibition of facility-related requirements stricter than those applied to traditional public schools.

20. Access to Relevant Employee Retirement Systems

weight = 2 | Possible total = 8

Utah law allows charter schools to opt into or out of the state retirement system. It requires schools to make their initial election by the end of their first year and allows them to change their election once after that.

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20A. Charter schools have access to relevant state retirement systems available to other public schools.

20B. Charter schools have the option to participate (i.e., not required).