Funds go directly to schools for programs chosen by parents and educators
Public schools will receive a historic $101 million distribution from the Permanent State School Fund this year as a direct result of the strong performance from the School and Institutional Trust Lands System – a 5.4% increase from last year’s distribution of $95.85 million and an 8.8% increase from the previous year’s distribution of $92.84 million. This record annual distribution is independent of other tax-funded sources supporting K-12 public schools.
Under the School LAND Trust Program, investment earnings from the Permanent State School Fund are distributed to every school in the state based on a per-pupil formula. School Community Councils comprised of parents and educators at each school determine how the funds can be best used to meet the specific academic needs in their respective schools. As a result, funds have provided meaningful benefits ranging from purchasing new library books to hiring aids who support teachers in classroom instruction.
“Impressive things happen when parents and education professionals come together on behalf of student improvement. With that common goal and the reliable trust funding source, progress and innovation can happen,” said Paula Plant, Director of the School Children’s Trust at the Utah State Board of Education.
Four separate agencies build, invest, administer, and protect the Utah School LAND Trust Program. The School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) manages Utah’s 3.4 million acres of school trust lands, depositing revenue from the land into the Permanent State School Fund. The School and Institutional Trust Funds Office (SITFO) manages the investment portfolio of the Permanent State School Fund. The School Children’s Trust administers the distribution program and supports School Community Councils. And the Land Trusts Protection and Advocacy Office assures beneficiary interests are maximized.
“This unique model of funding critical academic needs at the local level has been a huge success,” State Treasurer Marlo Oaks said. “The trust lands system is set up to protect the interests of current and future beneficiaries. The prudent administration of trust lands and investment assets benefits Utah’s education programs now and for years to come.”
SITLA generated record-breaking revenues last fiscal year for all of the Trust’s 12 beneficiaries, the largest being Public Schools, pulling in more than $166 million, a remarkable $64 million increase from the previous year.
“We’re very happy with the trajectory our revenues have been on in the last few years,” said SITLA director Michelle McConkie. “One of the most important factors that allow us to generate revenue for our beneficiaries is our ability to be flexible in a way that encourages industries that do business with us. We run the agency like a business, and because of that, we’re better positioned to react to the needs of industry in Utah.”
SITFO invests the beneficiaries’ permanent endowments annual distributions in perpetuity while providing inter-generational equity between current and future beneficiaries. In fiscal year 2021, all funds combined realized a whopping net growth of $655 million.
“SITFO is proud to be an important part of the system that protects and grows these valuable trusts. The team is committed to maximizing the risk-adjusted returns and continuing to grow the contribution to education in Utah,” SITFO Director and Chief Investment Officer Peter Madsen said. “The trusts are diversified, have weathered the recent volatility well, and the base-case expectation is for robust, long-term gains.”
In 1994, SITLA was created by the legislature as the first branch of the current system after it was discovered that the commitment to trust principles had been significantly diluted. At the time SITLA was created, the permanent trust balance was around $50 million. Since the inception of the trust system, the fund has grown substantially to approximately $3.2 billion today.
Land Trusts Protection and Advocacy Office Director Kim Christy said, “Protecting the beneficiaries’ interests is our fundamental focus. Making sure the system remains independent and free from political overreach or undue influence by others is paramount, so the system can continue to serve as a strong source of revenue now and into the future.”
When Utah became a state in 1896, Congress granted approximately seven million acres of land into 12 separate trusts for the support of state institutions: