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Utah legislature doubles funding for school choice program after 'overwhelming number of applications'

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Utah legislature doubles funding for school choice program after 'overwhelming number of applications'


Utah’s legislature doubled the funding for a school choice program after an “overwhelming number of applications” from parents.

During a recent general session, the Utah legislature voted to double the funding for the Utah Fits All Scholarship program from $40M to $80M for its inaugural year after high demand for the program.

The application portal for the program opened on February 28 and had available spots for 10,000 students. Within the first 24 hours, the portal received applications from 10,617 students in its first year of starting.

URBAN CHARTER SCHOOLS BODE SUCCESS FOR LOW-INCOME, NON-WHITES, COLLEGE ENROLLMENT: REPORT

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Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, R., last year established the Utah Fits All Scholarship Program and provided funding for the program as well as boosted teacher pay. (George Frey/Getty Images)

Robyn Bagley, Executive Director of Utah Education Fits All, told Fox News Digital that “the overwhelming number of applications in only the first 24 hours demonstrates that the allotment for the Utah Fits All Scholarship must continue to grow.”

“Although we doubled funding for year one, thousands of deserving Utah families will receive the disappointing news come April that they will not be awarded the opportunity to transform their child’s learning experience with a scholarship,” Bagley said.

According to Utah’s KSL.com, Majority Assistant Whip Kirk Cullimore, R-Draper, the sponsor of the bill that established the school choice program, told the Education Appropriations Subcommittee that the program “would need $280 million to meet the demand expressed by families who have indicated they are interested in applying for the vouchers.”

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, R., last year established the Utah Fits All Scholarship Program and provided funding for the program as well as boosted teacher pay.

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OVER 30 ORGANIZATIONS VOW TO END ‘DISCRIMINATORY’ PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT BOUNDARIES THAT ‘PROMOTE SEGREGATION’

Scholarship accounts were established on behalf of all Utah K-12 students to pay for “approved education goods and services” starting in the 2024-2025 school year.

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Robyn Bagley, Executive Director of Utah Education Fits All, told Fox News Digital that “the overwhelming number of applications in only the first 24 hours demonstrates that the allotment for the Utah Fits All Scholarship must continue to grow.” (Francesco Fotia/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

School choice, or providing all families with alternatives to the public schools they’re zoned for, can be expanded through multiple avenues at the state level, including school voucher programs, tax-credit scholarship programs, individual tuition tax credit programs and deductions, and education savings accounts (ESAs). 

Charter schools, magnet schools, and homeschooling are also forms of school choice programs.

Universal school choice made significant gains in the past couple of years when a wave of red states passed legislation into law. Alabama recently passed universal school choice and more states are looking to join the fold this year, a phenomenon Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders called a “school choice revolution.”

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Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who signed a universal school choice bill earlier in the year, also spoke at the conference. (Screenshot/ YouTube)

Ten states have passed universal school choice legislation so far, with Arizona leading the charge in July 2022.

Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Alabama, and North Carolina joined Arizona in signing universal school choice legislation and also implemented ESA models like Utah. West Virginia has an ESA model, as well. 





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Utah

Unpacking Future Packers: No. 12, Utah S Cole Bishop

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Unpacking Future Packers: No. 12, Utah S Cole Bishop


The Unpacking Future Packers Countdown is a countdown of 100 prospects that could be selected by the Green Bay Packers in the 2024 NFL draft.

The more a player can do, the more valuable they become. Now, let that phrase sink in since I’m sure your mind is blown right now. 

In all seriousness. Versatility is king and Cole Bishop is a player that can do a bit of everything for a defense. The Utah safety checks in at No. 12 in the Unpacking Future Packers Countdown.

Bishop, a three-star recruit out of Georgia, recorded 54 tackles, nine tackles for loss, three sacks and five pass deflections during his first season on campus. In 2022, Bishop recorded 83 tackles, six tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and one interception.

This past season Bishop recorded 60 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and two interceptions. 

“The Utah defense is consistently strong as a collective unit, but Bishop was their unquestioned leader,” Alex Markam, the publisher of UteNation.com said. “It was like having another coach on the field. If there was a big play to be made, he typically found himself in it whether it was in the secondary, making a stop in the box, or coming up with a crucial tackle for loss.”

Bishop did a bit of everything in Morgan Scalley’s defense. During his first two seasons, Bishop primarily played the Star position, logging 331 snaps in the slot. This past season he logged most of his snaps at free safety. He also logged snaps at linebacker.

Bishop excels playing downhill and is a hyperactive run defender. He’s fearless in run support and is tough as nails. The former three-star recruit has sideline-to-sideline range and always seems to be in on the action. He’s a disciplined player, who is rarely out of position and takes appropriate angles to the football. 

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The Utah safety is an effective blitzer. Over the past two seasons, Bishop has recorded 4.5 sacks and 33 pressures.  He times things up perfectly and showcases the closing burst to throw off the timing of the quarterback. 

“This is where I feel like he can be elite, although I’ve seen some reports that want him to tackle better,” Markham said. “From everything I’ve seen though, Bishop is a sure tackler and a hard-hitter. His understanding of the gaps as well as every position on the defense, allows him to get in a good position nearly every snap.”

The Utah defensive back has good field awareness and trusts his eyes. Bishop processes things quickly and shows good route recognition. When in the slot he has the short-area quickness and fluidity to stay attached in phase. He showcases a quick trigger and delivers crunching blows when he arrives. 

“Bishop has a nose for the football, takes the right angles and if he’s not breaking up the play, he’s making the stop on one of the cornerbacks’ assignments,” Markham said. “His football IQ is absolutely off the charts.”

Bishop logged 219 snaps on special teams during his time at Utah. With his speed, toughness and motor, Bishop could be an immediate impact player on special teams. 

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At the NFL Scouting Combine, Bishop answered any questions that teams may have had about his athleticism. Bishop clocked a 4.45 40-yard dash, posted a 39-inch vertical and a 10-04 broad jump.

Fit with the Packers

Gutekunst wants versatility in the secondary. Bishop would provide that versatility, with his ability to play in the box, man the slot or cover real estate in the backend.

“When you can draft someone who brings you leadership and rock-solid defense, who wouldn’t draft them? Bishop is the type, with all of his intangibles, that a team can build a defense around and watch him lead,” Markham said. “He’s always had a high floor. Bishop may never be the headliner of an NFL defense, but his presence alone on the field will make an NFL defense better.”

The Packers took a massive step to improve their safety room when they signed Xavier McKinney in free agency. Even with the addition of McKinney, there is still plenty of work to be done to improve the depth around him.

With his ability to wear multiple hats, Bishop fits the bill for what Gutekunst is searching for in the secondary. The Utah safety is a three-level player. He’s an asset in run support and showcased the toughness and instincts to play in the box. He can match up with slot receivers and tight ends. He has the range to cover real estate in the backend and he would be a day-one contributor on special teams.

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President Nelson, in a surprise appearance, rededicates the historic Manti Utah Temple

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President Nelson, in a surprise appearance, rededicates the historic Manti Utah Temple


MANTI, Utah — President Russell M. Nelson rededicated the Manti Utah Temple on Sunday, April 21, as “a house of peace, a house of comfort, and a house of personal revelation.”

The leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ participation in the rededication of the temple was a surprise to members in Sanpete County.

Originally dedicated 136 years ago in May 1888, the Manti Utah Temple is the Church’s third house of the Lord built in Utah.

To read the full story, visit TheChurchNews.com.

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Look what Utah ingenuity — and a desire to get out of work — has wrought

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Look what Utah ingenuity — and a desire to get out of work — has wrought


Matt Aposhian, COO of FireFly Automatix, is conducting a tour of the company’s warehouse in the industrialized part of the valley. In addition to showing off the impressive lineup of Firefly’s automated sod harvesters and driverless lawnmowers, he’s also pointing out the tens of thousands of parts that are fabricated, molded, welded, shaped, cut, bolted and painted right here on the premises to put the machines together.

When FireFly says its products are made in Utah, it means made in Utah.

“Steel and electronics come in one door,” says Matt, “fully functioning machines go out the other side.”

All of it a testament to the unlimited ingenuity of the human mind.

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That and the age-old desire to get out of work.

“Our engineers joke around,” Matt says. “They say they’re inherently lazy so they think of ways to do things easier.”

Then he adds, “It would’ve been nice to have all this around when I was a kid.”

* * *

When the Aposhian kids — Matt’s three brothers and two sisters — were growing up, their father, Lawrence, ran a sod farm. Besides putting a roof over their heads and food on the table, the farm made sure the siblings were no strangers to manual labor. When the cut sod rolled off the conveyor belt, they were the ones who got to get down on their hands and knees to lift it and stack it.

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“Those weren’t what I’d call the fun days,” says Matt, “but our parents were honorable people who taught us to work hard. They instilled that work ethic and an entrepreneurial spirit in us from a very young age. I think that has a lot to do with what’s happened.”

What’s happened is the invention and production of sod harvesters and lawnmowers that have taken the robotic age by storm.

The company’s automated harvesters — capable of turning what used to be a four-man operation into one driver sitting in a heated or air-conditioned cab listening to Spotify — can be found all over the U.S. and around the world, including as far away as China and South Africa.

Tanner Dixon, mechanical engineer, works on the cutting unit of a fully autonomous lawn mower at FireFly Automatix in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

And its eagerly anticipated, just-released fully electric robotic lawnmowers — requiring no driver — have already been ordered by sod farms and golf courses.

It all goes back to the day about 16 years ago when Steve Aposhian, Matt’s older brother, decided he could make a better robotic arm than the one that kept breaking on the early self-stacking harvester Lawrence had bought for his sod farm.

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Steve is the family engineer. When Steve was a teenager, Matt remembers him rigging up a motor from an electric race car to the blinds in his bedroom so he didn’t have to get out of bed to open and close the blinds.

Steve recruited a friend and fellow engineer, Will Decker, to redesign the robotic arm that kept breaking. When their version proved unbreakable, they decided to see if other sod farms might like to purchase something that was better than the original equipment.

When the response was “yes,” Steve and Will, along with another engineer friend, Eric Aston, and Matt Aposhian and his younger brother Dan formed a company they called FireFly. They set up their headquarters on Lawrence’s farm.

Then they set their sights even higher.

Lawrence Aposhian remembers the initial exchange he had with his son Steve.

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“He said, ‘I want to build an entire harvester from the ground up.’ I said, ‘Well, go ahead.’ So he got his engineer buddies, they sat in my office, got on my computer, and started designing this sod harvester. At night they went into my shop, got the steel and started fabricating.”

Steve, Will and Eric recruited Sam Drake, the professor who taught them engineering at the University of Utah, to help.

In less than a year — quick work even by Elon Musk standards — they had created what Lawrence calls “this remarkable thing.”

Horizon Turf Farms, a huge sod operation in Texas, bought the first FireFly harvester; then bought 17 more.

FireFly moved out of Lawrence’s farm into a spacious warehouse and in the 12 years since, as the company has grown to 190 employees (including 30 engineers), more than 600 fully completed FireFly ProSlab harvesters have rolled out the door. Currently, the company is selling about 110 harvesters a year.

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The success of the harvesters led to the six years of thinking, tinkering and fabricating that produced the just-released AMP — Autonomous Mowing Platform.

That’s a fancy way of saying a lawnmower that mows by itself.

“There’s nothing like it in the world,” says Matt. “With it being fully electric and fully autonomous, it does some things nobody else can do right now.”

Not only is a driverless 100-inch wide mower attractive to sod farms — where grass is cut as often as three times a week — but also to other places with large expanses of grass such as golf courses — a market Matt sees as the AMP’s future. There are 38,000 golf courses in the world, he points out. With a lawnmower that needs no driver, no gas and makes no noise, golf courses can mow their lawns early and late, not pollute the air and not wake anyone up. (You can see a video of the AMP in action at fireflyautomatix.com/amp-mowers/.)

* * *

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As Matt concludes our warehouse tour, making sure photographer Laura Seitz hasn’t taken any photos that might give away intellectual property (FireFly is home to more than six dozen current and pending patents), he surveys an assembly line Henry Ford would be proud of and an engineering laboratory right out of Thomas Edison’s playbook.

Hearkening back to his boyhood, he sums up in a sentence what the Aposhians and their engineer friends have wrought.

“We took what were the worst jobs on the sod farm,” he says, “now they’re the best.”

The autonomy controller and battery box of a fully autonomous lawn mower are pictured at FireFly Automatix in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News



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