CACHE COUNTY – The Cache County Council has jumped on a national bandwagon by proclaiming Jan. 24-30 to be Cache County School Choice Week.
School Choice Week has been a national observance since 2011. That event celebrates the contributions of pre-college instruction in traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, online academies and homeschooling to what council member Paul Borup called “the important role that effective education plays in preparing all students in Cache County to be successful adults.”
Quality education is also critically important to economic vitality and community diversity, he added.
The local proclamation unanimously approved by county council members on Jan. 12 emphasizes that the event is “celebrated across the country by millions of students, parents, educators, schools and organizations to raise awareness of the need for effective educational options.”
But not all educators support all forms of school choice. The Utah Education Association, for example, has traditionally opposed any form of school choice remotely resembling an educational voucher system.
As recently as 2020, the UEA lobbied against Utah House Bill 332 which would have shifted public money to private schools through a voucher-like scholarship program using income tax credits. The measure passed in the general session of the Legislature, but was vetoed by former Gov. Gary Herbert at the urging of the UEA.
Despite renewed UEA objections, a similar compromise proposal was subsequently passed in a special session of the Legislature and signed by Herbert.
Public schools in Utah are operated by local school districts. They are supported by tax dollars and any child can attend any school in Utah, regardless of whether the student lives in close proximity to the school.
On average, Utah spends $7,635 on each public school student annually, according to the National School Choice Week organization.
There are more than 30 traditional public schools in Cache County, including one preschool, 23 elementary schools, four middle schools and five high schools.
Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that have been granted the freedom to innovate in terms of their curriculum and instructional methods.
There are more than 100 charter schools in Utah. Seven of those institutions are located in Cache County, including the Center for Creativity, Innovation and Discovery in Providence; the Bear River Charter School in Logan; the Edith Bowen Laboratory School at Utah State University; Intech Collegiate Academy in Logan; Fast Forward High School in Logan; and the north and south campuses of the Thomas Edison Charter School, one in North Logan and the other in Nibley.
Charter schools are another school choice option with which some educators philosophically disagree.
The intended goal of charter school programs is to give parents more control over their child’s education by providing a learning environment that promotes creativity, literacy, science instruction or any other disciplinary focus.
Some teachers’ unions oppose charter schools because they view them as under-regulated competitors for tax dollars that deplete school districts’ already-strained resources.
They also argue that charter schools, which in many cases are able to cherry pick gifted students for admission, leave traditional public schools facing the challenge of educating disproportionate numbers of students with special needs and/or disciplinary issues.
Magnet schools are free public institutes that allow students to specialize in a narrow learning track, like engineering or performing arts. Magnet schools then teach all their curricula through the lenses of that specific discipline.
Private schools are non-public academies that offer alternative learning environments that might include religious instruction, stricter discipline or more diverse curricula. There are more than 100 private schools in Utah, with tuition averaging $11,815 per year, according to the National School Choice Week organization.
Private schools in Cache County include the Logan River Academy and Rescare Youthtrack, both in Logan; the Uinta Academy in Wellsville; and Joyce’s Early World in Smithfield.
Online instructional programs offer flexible learning schedules that often satisfy a variety of family needs. Online options for tuition-free education in Utah include the Utah Online School, Utah Connections Academy, Utah Virtual Academy and My Tech High.
Utah families can also choose to homeschool, a process by which parents educate their own children. That option, which is legal throughout the United States, offers a high degree of both customized learning and flexibility.
Utah will celebrate National School Choice Week 2021 with more than 200 virtual events and activities statewide between Jan. 24-30, according to the National School Choice Week coalition.
Additional information about Utah School Choice Week can be found at https://schoolchoiceweek.com/states/utah/.