Catholic Schools students eligible for new state scholarship program
Friday, Sep. 08, 2023
SALT LAKE CITY — Parents of children attending Utah Catholic Schools, and those who wish they could afford to send their children there, now have a new option in helping pay for their education. In January the state legislature passed H.B. 215, the Utah Fits All Scholarship program, which provides Educational Savings Accounts for Utah residents. Each ESA is valued at $8,000 per student for families who want to enroll their children in nonpublic school or homeschool. Those funds will be available beginning the 2024-25 school year.
“I’m excited to introduce a transformative opportunity for our community, the Utah Fits All Scholarship,” said Bishop Oscar A. Solis in a video to Catholic parents in Utah. “I am honored to support it alongside the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City. This generous offering of $8,000 paves the way for your child to become a part of Utah’s 16 outstanding Catholic schools. A Catholic education does more than just teach. It instills values of compassion, respect and social responsibility, molding students to make positive impacts on their communities and the wider world.”
The Utah Legislature has set aside $40 million annually to fund this program. If enrollment exceeds funding, those accounts will be awarded in a tiered structure. The first tier would include students whose family income is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (in 2023 that is $60,000 for a family of four). Then it will be offered to students with a sibling who uses an ESA at the time of application or in the preceding school year, and then students with a family income between 200 and 555 percent ($166,500 for a family of four). More than 5,000 Utah students could take advantage of the scholarship.
More than 1,000 students currently enrolled in Utah Catholic Schools would qualify at the first level, Utah Catholic Schools Superintendent Mark Longe said.
“Our hope as a Catholic school system is that the families most in need [with students] that are already in our schools will be able to receive the scholarship, and families that are in our religious education programs that feel they could have never afforded Catholic education now will be able to take advantage of this scholarship,” Longe said.
Information on the state program is sparse right now, he said. The Utah Department of Education is expected to hire a scholarship management organization to administer the program later this year. That organization will develop program rules, which will be approved by the Utah Board of Education by early 2024. An online registration portal is expected to be operational by March 1, 2024.
Meanwhile, in the Diocese of Salt Lake City, school, parish and diocesan task forces have been put together to provide parents with information about the ESAs and to help them apply. The diocese is also hosting a Utah Fits All Scholarship web page in both Spanish and English. The diocesan task force will provide a bilingual Utah Fits All Scholarship hotline to answer questions beginning later this month.
With this new funding option, more parents will be able to enroll their children in Utah Catholic Schools, Longe said. The diocese and all of its schools are planning for additional students and the increase in support services that will be needed. Across the 16 schools, there are currently 1,600 openings, he said. If demand exceeds that number, the diocesan schools office will begin a waitlist. Diocesan officials are also considering long-term options such as micro schools at parish religious buildings or construction of new schools if there is a need.
Longe expressed appreciation for Dr. Galey Colosimo, principal of Juan Diego Catholic High School and executive director of the Utah Private Schools Association.
“He has been instrumental in working on this legislation and past legislation,” Longe said. “Credit goes out to him and to the people that have helped him. I also want to thank those legislators that supported this because it will help families in Utah.”
For information about the Utah Fits All Scholarship, or to preapply, visit https://www.dioslc.org/schools/scholarship-info. More information will be sent out to individual parishes in the coming month.