Lawmakers targeting $170 million boost in public education spending

Utah Capitol 08

It appears lawmakers are targeting a boost in public education funding this year close to $170 million. That includes fully funding next year’s student growth and a boost in the WPU of just over 4 percent.

According to the priority funding list from the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee, legislators are suggesting a $128 million increase in the weighted pupil unit, the basic unit of school funding. That works out to just over 4% from last year. That total is slightly higher than the 4% Governor Herbert included in his budget proposal but far less than the 5.5% increase the State Board of Education had recommended. A 1% bump in the WPU is about $31 million.

Next year’s student growth is fully funded under the recommended budget numbers. Lawmakers are proposing spending $35.7 million in ongoing funds and $4.3 million in one-time money to fund that growth. The one-time funds will be used to purchase technology to accommodate the growth in students utilizing online education.

That $170 million increase will impact the state’s already shrinking budget surplus. On Friday, legislators announced new consensus numbers showing the state’s expected $1.3 billion budget surplus had dropped by about $200 million. Lawmakers have $525 million in one-time funds to spend and another $570 in ongoing surplus revenue for the next year.

Legislative leaders already set aside $300 million as a safeguard in case the expected budget surplus fails to materialize, a move that seems quite prescient now. They also allocated $350 million from the expected surplus to pay for the final costs on the new Utah State Prison. The alternative Medicaid expansion program could cost $72 million over the next two years, which takes more out of the surplus funds, leaving legislators with around $650 million extra for funding.

The proposed increase in public funding will take up almost ⅓ of that total, which means many other funding requests will likely go by the wayside.