I have been an advocate for education choice since I was in high school when National School Choice Week was first created in 2011. My public charter school in Draper even took part in School Choice Week events, and I wrote an essay about why children need it. Now I get to champion school choice through my job as an education policy analyst.

When my family came to the United States from the Philippines, my parents sacrificed a lot financially to send my sister and me to private schools. But when my dad lost his job during the Great Recession in the late 2000s, we had to find cheaper solutions. After leaving the private schools in the state, my parents struggled to find affordable learning environments that worked for my sister and me.

My parents recognized that my sister and I had different educational needs. While I thrived in the public charter school where I eventually graduated, my parents took longer to find an education environment that worked for my sister. Eventually, she attended a classical liberal public charter school and graduated from a STEM public charter school. She now attends Georgia Institute of Technology, a top university for engineering.

Had my family had access to school choice funds, we would have been able to truly find the best fit for us. We could have even stayed at one of the private schools we attended.

Now, a new program in Utah will ensure that parents like mine will have everything they need to find the best education possible for their child’s unique needs.

The Utah state Legislature passed the Utah Fits All Scholarship Program in 2023 and expanded it to more students in 2024. The Legislature decided to wait a year to roll out the program to students after it initially passed. This year, thousands of applications poured in ahead of the April 22 deadline, making it evident families want more access to different education options. (They will learn by May 3 if they were approved.)

These ESAs will benefit almost every single child in Utah, regardless of where they attend school. Even traditional public and public charter school children will be able to receive a partial scholarship for “customized expenses.”

Unlike voucher programs, which are solely for private school tuition, ESAs offer more flexibility for families. This distinction sets ESAs apart from voucher programs and provides a broader range of educational opportunities for children. Not only will they let families choose where they want to send their children to school, but they will be able to use funds for tutoring, transportation and after-school activities.

Also, since the funds for the program already come from a portion of existing per pupil funding (around 88%), the remainder of resources will go back to children in traditional public schools. This means there will be more money left over for fewer children attending these schools. UFASP will benefit everyone — without defunding traditional public schools.

I have seen firsthand how school choice improved traditional public schools during the rise of the charter school movement in Utah over the past 20 years. With even more options on the rise, such as private schools, microschools and hybrid schools, public schools will be forced to innovate even more to stay relevant and competitive in the education market.

Right now, Utah ranks No. 9 in the country for its pre-K-12 education, according to U.S. News & World Report. Once families start utilizing ESAs to take advantage of even more innovative learning models, Utah’s education ranking will only improve.

The Utah Fits All Scholarship Program will be transformative for education and children in the state. This is about prioritizing education for children in Utah and empowering families to choose an education that works for them, and I am excited to see these changes come to my home state.

Frances Floresca is an education policy analyst and reporter who has worked in Utah, Washington, D.C., Nevada and Georgia. She grew up in Utah and graduated from the University of Utah David Eccles School of Business in 2019. She is a Young Voices contributor.