SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — The January meeting of the Utah State Charter School Board was unusual. The oversight authority that grants Utah charter schools the right to open denied the applications of three potential schools in one meeting.
Charter schools are independently-operated public schools that have been granted latitude in the design of their classrooms and curricula. They're funded by taxpayer dollars.
When the assessment of Camino Nuevo Technical Academy’s progress towards opening was troubling: "There are some substantial concernsabout enrollment and other areas related to student population,” Patrick Gavin, staff member said.
Camino Nuevo, Summit Place and Aurora Preparatory were all told they would not be able to open, in part because the UCSB was concerned about the school’s enrollment numbers. However, enrollment number for the most current year are up by 2%.
The slower enrollment is a concern in general among charter schools. Beyond the Books has discovered that the number of students signing up at Utah charters schools has decreased for the first time in almost a decade.
In addition some charter schools are facing re-enrollment issues. A review of retention rates at Utah’s 130 charter schools reveals that in the most recent year, 25% of the schools have seen their ability to keep students enrolled have dropped to concerning levels.
Rep. V. Lowry Snow of St. George has taken note of charter school numbers which appear to be hitting a plateau. He said charter schools need to continue to be competitive in order to retain and recruit more students.
"A charter, in order to be affective, has to be able to be relevant to the parents and the family,” Snow said.
Kim Frank with Utah Charter Network said the charter school world in Utah is not saturated, and she said the board that oversees charter schools is purposefully being more selective about the new schools they allow to open.
"I think the charter school board would like to see a little more innovation, so I think they are being a little more picky on what they approve,” Frank said.
However, that does not explain the failure of Utah Mountain School. The school recently announced it would not open after it failed to reach enrollment goals. It needed to recruit 249 students to open by next year, however, as of May 5, it had only enrolled 41 students.
The school’s founders tell Beyond The Books, that among other issues, real estate created problems for the school. Officials with the school said it took months to find a location to open its campus. They said it was difficult to enroll students without a building to show them.