In the past we’ve shown the need to expand or build upon the success of the Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship. Families have been able to engage in life-changing education services for their children. The evidence is clear that the small amount of funding that has been provided to this program has gone a long way.
The question then becomes: what can Utah do to capitalize on that success?
Funding for the Carson Smith program is capped and has reached a ceiling that would be hard to overcome, so a new funding model is needed. Libertas Institute has been working with a coalition of different Utah organizations to develop a corporate tax credit that could be used to fund a new scholarship program for special needs students.
Instead of removing funding from the general fund or education fund, the end result of these tax credits would actually be a net positive for the amount of per-pupil spending for Utah students.
The program would be administered by several scholarship organizations that would find taxpayers interested in donating to the program. These same scholarship organizations would be tasked with providing funds to families of qualifying special needs students for educational support.
The scholarship would function as a Flexible Education Spending Accounts (FSA). Unlike vouchers, these FSAs offer an opportunity for parents to go beyond choosing where their child is educated to having a say in how their child is educated. An FSA goes beyond merely reforming at the top or providing school choice by engaging parents directly in shaping how funding is used in their child’s education.
These types of FSAs for special needs students have been very successful in other states like Arizona and Florida. Instead of just funding private school tuition, FSAs can be used on a wide variety of education services. Utah families deserve these kinds of opportunities for their special needs children in order to provide the best education possible.
You can find an initial draft of the language for this new program here.