Utah lawmakers are looking to boost spending for public education by 4% this year while fully funding expected student growth.
UtahPolicy.com has learned budget negotiators have agreed to a 4% boost in the weighted pupil unit, the basic unit of school funding. Most of that increase will likely go toward raising teacher salaries. The appropriations committee tasked with setting the budget for public education only asked for a 3% boost in the WPU.
That new money would be on top of the $68 million needed to cover the expenses of the 10,000 additional students who will flood into Utah’s public schools next year. Legislators say they plan to fully fund that new growth.
Lawmakers have also decided to spend $8 million in ongoing money to provide classroom supplies for teachers.
Those three things bring total new spending on Utah’s schools to close to $200 million. Sources say other education-related spending will push that total higher.
The new spending is significant, but it’s not remotely close to the major boost for public schools sought by the “Our Schools Now” group. They are advocating for a 7/8ths of 1% increase in the personal income tax, which would generate an estimated $750 million annually in additional money for public schools. The group plans to take that issue to the ballot in 2018.
House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, tells UtahPolicy that the lift to a 4 percent WPU increase in the 2017-2918 budget is a hard one. Gov. Gary Herbert put a 4 percent WPU hike in his 2018 fiscal year budget recommendation.
Hughes favors scouring various tax revenue pools to come up with the $15 million-plus it would take to get to 4 percent.
But there are other needs – specifically more than $10 million required to pay for the now-two-year state promise to buy various new buildings for the homeless rehabilitation effort.
Last year Hughes led an effort (he has really committed himself to the homeless problem) for the state to guarantee $28 million for homeless alleviation.
It was a three-year effort before, but now under a new agreement announced last Friday, it will be a two-year cash distribution of state dollars.
In any case, every year lawmakers rush to squeeze as many programs as possible into the available estimated tax revenue. This year is tougher because gone are the huge revenue surpluses seen in the last few years – upwards of half a billion dollars.
Lawmakers had about $375 million in new funding to allocate this year. The $200 million slotted for education means more than half (54%) of those funds will go toward Utah’s public schools.