SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — Trent Young says he was stunned on a Friday afternoon when the director of the school for which he worked, Utah Career Path High School, asked he and other teachers to hang up a bunch of glossy posters advertising the school.
As teachers headed out for their lunch break, the director asked that they hang posters at restaurants, Young said.
“It did sort of surprise me how much of an emphasis was put on marketing to get more students,” says Young, who no longer works for the school.
He says administrators at Career Path High were obsessed with recruiting more students.
“To me, it felt like it was a waste of money — no educational value,” Young said.
When it comes to spending money on ads, Career Path High did a lot. Since 2015, the school has spent $152,000 on advertising. Beyond the Books discovered that Career Path is not alone in the charter school world when it comes to marketing spending. In fact, since 2015, Utah charter schools have spent a combined $2.1 million on advertising.
The lion’s share of that money was spent by 10 schools:
Among charter schools who spend money on ads, Mountain Heights Academy is the biggest player. The school has spent nearly $900,000 on advertising since 2015, mostly on Facebook advertisements.
Delaina Tonks is the principal of Mountain Heights. She says advertising makes up only a fraction of the school's overall spending.
“So what that works out to is about the cost of a cup of coffee, per day, per student,” Tonks said of the spending.
Tonks is not alone in her belief that charter schools get a good bang for their buck when they advertise. Matt Throckmorton with the Utah Military Academy says although his school spent nearly $250,000 on advertising since 2015, less than 1 percent of his budget goes into marketing — and that advertising is a necessity for charter schools.
“Well, if we don’t do the advertising, if we don’t have the students, we don’t have a school. We definitely have to advertise,” Throckmorton said.
Charter schools do find themselves in a unique situation in Utah’s education landscape. Traditional schools have a built-in geographic student body and, generally, students go to the school closest to their homes. However, if a student wants to go to a charter school, they have many choices. Advertising, charter school proponents argue, helps get the word out about those choices.
However, not all charter schools have the same philosophy. Summit Academy, one of the largest charter schools in the state, spends almost nothing on advertising, but has a large student body at 2,400.
Traditional schools likely would never spend these large sums of money on advertising. In fact, last year, only the Canyons School District spent any significant money on advertising, but that was because they were required by state law to inform voters of an initiative on the 2017 ballot. The district spent $70,000 on the ad campaign that included mostly mailing information to voters.
Throckmorton says even though Utah Military School has struggled academically since it opened, he believes spending on advertising is not hurting the school.
However, the most recent Utah school assessment suggest that some of the schools spending the most money on advertising, are facing challenges when it comes to academics. According to this year's assessment of Utah schools, Young’s former school, Utah Career Path High, ranks 664th out of 950 Utah schools. Mountain Heights Academy, which received an “F” from the state in 2016, ranks at 411th, and Utah Military Academy is around the bottom of the list for Utah high schools.
As for Young, he says during his time at Utah Career Path High he was asked to attend open houses, hand out flyers and hang posters for the school. He says he wanted to teach, not be a salesman for charter schools.
“Since then, every time I hear a radio ad promoting, like, a charter school, I just think that’s’ very expensive and that is taxpayer money that could be going towards education,” Young said.