SB34: Bill would allow cities and towns to approve charter schools

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By Maren McInnes
Capital West News

SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah state senator wants to give cities and towns the ability to authorize charter schools.

Sen. Aaron Osmond,  R-South Jordan
Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan

Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, is sponsoring SB34 that would add cities and towns to the list of government bodies that can approve charter school applications, subject to the vote of the state school board and State Charter School Board.

Currently, three entities can approve charter schools: a local school board, the board of trustees of a college or university, or the State Charter School Board. The State Charter School Board most often approves charter schools.

“As a general rule, it is good to have more authorizers in the state,” said Royce Van Tassell, executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools. He said 3 percent fee that the school would have to pay to when they apply for authorization may cause some concern. Schools might rather apply to an entity that doesn’t charge a fee.

SB 34 will be discussed in 2015 legislative session, which begins Jan. 26. Because the session has not begun, the Utah Board of Education and Utah PTA have not yet taken a formal position on the bill.

Osmond said, “The primary motive is to help cities that are high growth locations where we have some issue with being able to justify bonding (for new schools) as soon as we like to by (being) able to offload some of the student demand with charter schools.

However, he also emphasized that these charter school are not just being built “to house students.” A “high quality academic output” will still be expected from charter school applicants. Whether or not the law would be used will depend on the area, but areas of high growth would be more likely to use the law, if passed.

Osmond anticipates opposition from those who believe charter schools are a “drain” on public education. While he disagrees, he understands the concern. He defends charter schools because they are funded at the same level as public schools and district schools are guaranteed funding, “like an insurance policy.”