For the 40 percent of minority students not graduating with a diploma, the public school system is not working. Despite claims that choice already exists in the current system, these students who need it most do not have a choice based on factors usually dealing with their income or inflexibility within the public school system.
The Sutherland Institute contacted 16 of the state’s 29 public school districts, accounting for 84 percent of Utah’s total student enrollment, and asked them about their “open enrollment” policies as well as their practical experiences in its implementation. The survey results show that open enrollment and within-district acceptance rates are 81 percent and 92 percent respectively, for districts that keep such records.
“The most frequently-cited reason for rejecting transfer students was space considerations. The second most-cited reason was based on past behavior problems. Two districts even cited special-needs status as a reason for rejecting open enrollment and within-district transfer applications,” said Derek Monson, education policy analyst for Sutherland Institute. “The responses reveal that public schools are not immune from ‘discrimination’ toward students.”
Though private schools are not required to accept all students who apply, Sutherland’s close evaluation of private school admission policies indicates that 91 percent of all voucher-eligible schools in Utah are willing and able to accept special needs students. In fact, Utah is already using a successful voucher program, Carson Smith Scholarships, to meet the needs of special education children.
“Contrary to popular myth about exclusivity in Utah’s private schools, not only are they as racially diverse as Utah’s public schools, but now we find that private schools are just as open and flexible in meeting the educational needs of all children and, in several instances, they are more so,” concluded Monson.