Members of the House Education Committee approved a bill that would allow a charter school to give enrollment preference to the grandchildren of its founders and governing board members.
All this bill does is add the word 'grandparent.' That's the only change this bill is making. It's not opening a new avenue to get children into charter schools. —Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain

SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers Thursday gave their first nod of approval to a bill that would make it easier for the grandchildren of a charter school's founder to attend that school.

Many of Utah's charter schools rely on lotteries and waiting lists to meet the demand for enrollment, but current law allows for a student to bypass that process if their parent is a school founder or a member of the school's governing board.

Under the terms of HB36, sponsored by Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, that provision would be expanded to include the grandchildren of board members as well.

"All this bill does is add the word 'grandparent.' That’s the only change this bill is making," Lifferth said. "It's not opening a new avenue to get children into charter schools."

Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools are able to set a cap on enrollment and are often geared toward an educational niche, such as English language learners, competitive athletes or students interested in a particular field of study.

During Thursday's meeting of the House Education Committee, Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, said charter schools are a valuable part of the state's public school system, but he added that in many ways they resemble private schools.

Nielson asked if the terms of the bill, which would potentially allow the enrollment of one family's children at the expense of others, took that semi-private status too far.

"Are we asking our charter schools to be more like private schools than they ought to be, given the fact that they are publicly funded?" he asked.

Chris Bleak, president of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools, said the intent of the bill is not to foster elitism but to recognize the time and effort volunteered to a school by its board members.

"Charter schools should not become exclusive communities," Bleak said. "If that were the goal or direction, that would be inappropriate."

The bill ultimately advanced out of the committee unanimously with a favorable recommendation.

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