- Associated Press - Saturday, November 14, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Charter school enrollment in Utah is continuing to grow, with charters now educating 10 percent of all public school students for the first time ever.

The state Office of Education released a report Tuesday that shows Utah’s public education system grew by more than 11,700 students in 2015, bringing the total enrollment to 633,896 children.

Charter schools accounted for most of the growth, gaining more than 6,000 students. Charters now enroll 67,509 students, or one out of every ten students in the state.

This year’s growth among charters follows a steady trend seen in previous years, with those schools having the greatest portion of enrollment growth.

“This has been kind of a long-range goal for a number of years,” said Kim Frank, executive director of the Utah Charter Network. “I think 10 percent is not quite where we should be, but it’s a great start.”

Charters are public schools that operate independently of the state’s 41 school districts. Six new charter schools opened this year in Utah, and two closed down at the beginning of the school year. The state now has 104 charters.

Frank said the number of charter schools and students attending the schools will continue to grow.

“I would love to see us in the 30 to 40 percent range at some point,” Frank said. “I don’t know if that will happen, but if we keep growing at the rate we’re currently growing, we could get there.”

While charter enrollment is on the rise, the number of low-income students in Utah dropped by roughly 5,000. Low-income students now make up 35 percent of the public education system, down from 36.4 percent from last year.

It is “great news,” according to Mark Peterson, Utah Office of Education spokesman, who noted that student poverty is on the rise across the country.

“We’re bucking that trend a little bit,” he said. “Exactly what would account for that, I’m not sure, other than our economy is doing pretty well here.”

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