The biggest hurdle facing education entrepreneurs is zoning and occupancy rules.
Education entrepreneurs are in a tight spot because they have to follow both business zoning laws and school occupancy rules. As a result, finding a location to establish themselves is very difficult and frustrating.
I recently met with two dozen education entrepreneurs in Utah. The overwhelming problem that they face in starting a new school is city zoning laws and occupancy requirements.
Paul Tanner, the founder of Choice Academy in Bountiful, told me about his struggles to just get off of the ground. When Paul was trying to create his school, he found a location in a residential area. He tried to begin his school in this location but was told by the city that he was a private business, not a school, and that the area was not zoned for his “business.”
Paul accepted this and found a location that would work, converting a small office building into a learning environment for his students. But the city officials wanted to inspect the building as if it were a school, following the education occupancy rules instead of the business occupancy. He was forced to follow the strictest parts of both the zoning and occupancy rules during his initial startup.
Paul wishes that was the only problem that he had with city regulators. Unfortunately, he had more.
Paul has been looking for a property where they can build a space to fit their needs and growing school. He has searched West Bountiful, Centerville, and other Bountiful locations. Paul dreams of finding a larger property where he can provide opportunities to expand the children’s experiential learning, like gardens.
He put in an offer for a property that he thought would work in West Bountiful and began to work with the city officials trying to build his vision. The city delayed their approval, giving multiple excuses about why he couldn’t build his school there. The city delays led to him losing out on the property bid.
West Bountiful told Paul that the area wasn’t the right zoning. After pointing out that there was a traditional school across the street, the city told Paul that he would be required to have one parking spot for every four students. The irony of the situation is that the public school was not required to follow this same rule.
He is still looking for a suitable location to expand.
Utah law relieves zoning restrictions on public schools and charter schools. These schools are permitted to be in all zoning areas of a city or county.
The typical parent likes their children to attend school close to home. Schools work to build a sense of community as soon as they open their doors. The unfortunate reality is many cities don’t treat all schools the same way.
Most of the education entrepreneurs I have met realize that they will have to deal with city codes and zoning rules. They just want to understand which set of rules apply to them. We can help by putting all new educational models under the same building rules as the state-run schools.