Utah charter enrollment slows, still outpaces public schools

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The growth in enrollment in Utah charter schools has slowed, but it still outpaces enrollment increases across the state’s entire public education system, according to new figures from the state Board of Education.

The numbers released Tuesday indicate charter school enrollment grew by 5.7 percent this year as statewide enrollment grew by 1.2 percent, The Salt Lake Tribune reported .

Utah’s public education system added 7,872 students for a total enrollment of 652,348. More than 4,000 students enrolled in charter schools, bringing the total to 75,567. While the charter school growth percentage exceeded the state rate, it was the lowest increase in four years.

Charter schools were seeing enrollment growth percentages in the double digits as recently as 2014, but the rate has declined each year since. The number of charter schools was increasing, though three charters were shut down because of issues with low performance and budgetary lapses. Charter schools are publicly funded, but they operate outside the state’s 41 public school districts.

“The number of applications for new charter schools has, unsurprisingly, gone down,” said Royce Van Tassell, executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools. “The state Charter School Board continues to be thorough in evaluating proposed charters. There are more that they reject than they approve.”

Mark Peterson, a spokesman for the state Board of Education, said this year’s numbers have largely followed the recent trends. Despite the statewide growth, some of the state’s rural school districts experienced enrollment declines. Both growth and decline can cause financial challenges for districts, Peterson said.

“That is a sizeable number of students who all have to have classrooms and teachers available to them,” Peterson said of the statewide enrollment number. “We’re not seeing such numbers that are going to overly stress the system. But we still are going to need funding.”

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