Funding for Utah’s school children and college students once more dominates the $14.5 billion budget for 2016. The total increase for both higher and public education was $445 million – over $20 million more than originally sought by the governor.
The legislature is appropriating $94 million to accommodate growth for a projected 9,700 new public school students this fall, as well as a nearly $74 million expenditure representing a 3% increase to the Weighted Pupil Unit, (WPU). Monies headed to public education also include $20.4 million in ongoing funding for Charter School equalization and almost $17 million, $10 million of that ongoing, targeted to improve technology in our schools.
Construction on Utah’s college and university campuses is another big-ticket budgetary item, including more than $113 million approved for new buildings at Utah State and Utah Valley Universities and the West Point campus of Salt Lake Community College.
In 2015, the Legislature took a major step toward equity in public education by bringing up districts with a lower property tax base in line with others around the state having a much higher property tax base, with the passage of S.B. 97. This legislation sought to make the school funding formula more fair and provide greater opportunity for all children, wherever they might live throughout the State of Utah. Charter schools were left out of that.
Last year the Legislature established the Charter School Funding Task Force to look at this issue and investigate possible solutions. The task force was given the responsibility of studying charter school funding provisions and the method for determining their enrollment for funding purposes.
The culmination of the research and review of the task force has come in the form of S.B. 38, which includes a number of the task force recommendations including: continuation of grade-level weighting, changes to school district allocations for students enrolled in charter schools and the inclusion of recreational facilities in the local replacement formula for those schools.
The State of Utah is constitutionally mandated to provide a free education for all of its children, and it has chosen to do so through both traditional and charter schools. It is incumbent upon the Legislature to ensure that all of these students are given an equal opportunity for success.
Additional education-related bills include SB 101, High Quality School Readiness Program Expansion, which establishes a school readiness program for students deemed eligible for an Intergenerational Poverty program and creates the Intergenerational Poverty School Readiness Scholarship Program. HB 201, removes SAGE scores from teacher evaluations.