State Policy Network
Utah Passes Legislation that Removes Barriers for Microschools 

The Utah Governor signed legislation that removes significant barriers for microschools—small multi-family learning environments that are designed and operated around the educational needs of the particular students they serve. 

Springing into popularity after the COVID-19 pandemic, microschools offer children an alternative learning environment to traditional schooling. They are an important option for more than one million learners across the country, but unfortunately, they face uphill battles when it comes to complying with burdensome regulations.  

Finding Space: One of the Biggest Challenges Microschool Founders Encounter 

Ask any microschool founder, and they will tell you finding space is one of the biggest challenges to starting a school. Local zoning and occupancy requirements often prevent education startups like microschools from launching or expanding.  

As Paul Tanner, a Utah parent and microschool founder, explained: “Finding a location is one of the most challenging and stressful things. Current building codes and zoning laws make it quite difficult to find a location. Microschools and private schools are so few that many cities have not had to deal with them.” 

New Utah Law, Championed by Libertas Institute, Eliminates Restrictions on Where Microschools Can Operate  

The legislation signed by the Utah Governor, also known as SB 13, addresses these problems. As the Libertas Institute, a policy organization in Lehi, Utah, that played a big role in advancing this bill, explained: SB 13 permits microschools and similar businesses in all areas of a city or county—which means these schools can now even operate in neighborhoods. The bill also makes the building requirements make sense for these new models by allowing microschools to operate in commercial buildings, or if the school is really small, to operate out of a home. 

This new law will give education entrepreneurs in Utah more freedom and flexibility in acquiring spaces for their learners which in turn gives families seeking alternatives more options. This will help increase the supply of options for families in Utah to choose from, which is important since demand for alternatives is higher than ever. In fact, according to ACE Scholarships, the group managing Utah’s Education Savings Account (ESA), only two days into the portal opening on February 28, 10,617 student applications were submitted! Last year when the Utah Fits All Scholarship Program was passed, lawmakers had appropriated enough money for 5,000 students to be served by the program. In light of such strong demand, and with pushing from advocates including the Libertas Institute, lawmakers approved doubling the appropriation for the program in SB 13—so now 10,000 students can access the education that best fits their needs. 

Jon England, an Education Policy Analyst at Libertas Institute, noted:  

“Zoning and building occupancy laws have been one of the biggest governmental hurdles for microschool founders. Founders have been relegated to busy highways, business parks, or strip malls. Once there, they usually had to renovate their building to meet the outdated standards that were designed for high-density public schools.  

The passage of SB 13 changed all of that. Microschools now have the same access to residential and agricultural zones as public schools. They are also allowed to be in the same types of buildings as dance studios, karate classes, and tutoring centers without needing to make costly changes. By removing these barriers, Utah continues to grow its thriving and diverse learning environment. Teachers and parents are now free to create the education that works best for their children.” 

Kerry McDonald, the Velinda Jonson Family Education Fellow at State Policy Network, added:  

“In much the same way that Airbnb pushed back against outdated zoning and occupancy regulations that limited innovation, microschool founders and advocates are pushing back against similar roadblocks in education. With support from SPN’s partner, the Libertas Institute, Utah passed SB 13—enabling microschools to operate in both commercial and residential zones and adapting building code requirements to be more reflective of the realities of small schools.  

Championed in large part by Libertas Institute education policy analyst, Jon England, whose children attend a microschool, this bill will make it easier for microschool founders to launch the low-cost, personalized, child-centered schools that families want.” 

SPN Groups Working to Remove Barriers for Education Entrepreneurs—in Utah and Other States  

Kerry McDonald released a report in 2022 that outlines ways that states can encourage education entrepreneurship, including zoning reforms like those in this new Utah law. SB 13 serves as a model for other states looking to support education entrepreneurship and innovation—and SPN is working to ensure McDonald’s policy recommendations spread to other states so more families can access alternative education options they need and deserve.  

Related Reads:  

Microschools: Explained 
State Policy Network  

New SPN Report Outlines How States Can Encourage Education Entrepreneurship 
State Policy Network   

SB 13: Removing Barriers for Microschools 
Libertas Institute 

Education Entrepreneurs Face Regulatory Challenges Everywhere. Utah Is Trying To Help. 
State Policy Network’s Kerry McDonald in Forbes 

Organization: State Policy Network