By UEA Policy and Research Director Jay Blain
The UEA advocated for a 4 percent increase
on the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) throughout the 2014 Legislative Session and asked for as much when testifying before meetings of the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee
. In the end, legislators settled on a 2.5 percent WPU increase. While it’s not the 4 percent we wanted, the outcome was above the 2 percent increase we were hearing for much of the session.
We also advocated long and hard for the Legislature to cover the cost of new students entering the system. The approved budget fully funds growth throughout the Minimum School Program with new money. This means that all programs will receive increases based on enrollment growth.
A few other budget highlights:
Teacher supply money was funded with the same amount and rules for distribution.
The STEM Action Center received additional funding this year; $15 million in one-time money from the education fund and $5 million in ongoing funding from the general fund. This money will be used for, high quality professional development for teachers, developing endorsements in STEM, and math initiatives in K-8. They will also continue with the work they began last year.
A public/private partnership Pre-K initiative bill was passed and funded at $3 million.
A grant program for after-school interventions for students in intergenerational poverty was passed and funded at $1 million.
$1.5 million was appropriated for the initial work on a new building for USDB in Salt Lake. $400,000 was also allocated for additional USDB teacher positions.
Public education budget disappointments included:
No separate line item to cover mandatory retirement increases for education employees;
No restoration of funding for teacher professional development; and
Failure of a bill to significantly increase public education funding by eliminating tax deductions.
While the UEA sees this as a good year considering all of the factors, this is only a beginning. We need a long-term strategy for funding public education in Utah that includes examining the revenue side as well. We will continue to work with policymakers to improve Utah’s education funding.
Teacher Survey —
A poll of Utah teachers conducted in February 2014 showed the majority (67.8%) of public school educators support new technology in schools, but not if it comes at the expense of existing education needs. Fewer than 2% of teachers would support the proposal if it means giving up money in other areas of the education budget and about 30% reject the technology proposal outright.
As a result of these findings, the UEA urged Utah legislators to first fund the following basic public education needs before considering new projects:
- Fully fund new student growth* ($35 million)
- A minimum 2.5% increase on the WPU* ($62.5 million)
- Social Security/retirement as a separate line item ($25 million)
- Restore 2 days of educator professional development ($24 million)
*As recommended by the Governor and the Public Education Appropriations Committee
Committee Recommends 2.5% WPU Increase — February 13, 2014
The Public Education Appropriations Committee recommend a 2.5% increase on the WPU to the Executive Appropriations Committee. In the Committee meeting, Sen. Steve Urquhart argued that a 1% WPU increase is sufficient as the WPU is “the least innovative part of the budget.” Rep. Jim Nielson disagreed saying he has seen many innovative things happening in school districts without legislative direction. Rep. Francis Gibson mentioned the retirement line item dilemma, a concern consistently expressed by the UEA. The motion to recommend a 2.5% WPU increase passed with Sen. Urquhart and Rep. David Lifferth voting against. The UEA has requested a 4% WPU increase (see below).
The Committee also finalized its list of funding priorities to forward to the Executive Appropriations Committee, which will make final budget decisions before sending a budget bill to the House and Senate for approval.
UEA's Position on the FY2015 Public Education Budget
Utah per-student public education funding has declined significantly since the beginning of the Great Recession. Consider the following important Utah public education funding facts:
- Per-student state funding for K-12 public education is down 9.6% from its 2008 pre-recession level (before inflation).*
- With 1% on the WPU required to maintain Social Security and retirement and 1.5% expected inflation, schools need a 2.5% WPU increase just to maintain current funding levels. In other words, 2.5% on the WPU = ZERO increase.
A return to pre-recession funding levels would require a public education budget allocation of about $283 million in addition to the $61.6 million needed for a break-even 2.5% WPU increase and $64 million to fund new student growth. This is before even beginning to address the additional resources so desperately needed in our grossly underfunded public school classrooms.
The $420 million price tag is a significant and worthwhile investment in Utah’s schoolchildren and its economy.
Still, the UEA recognizes the political and economic difficulties in attempting to make up a six-year funding crisis all at once. The UEA proposes a more conservative three-year approach to restore funding losses. In addition to funding growth for FY2015, the UEA proposes the following:
$98.56 million = 4% WPU increase
$24.46 million = Social Security and retirement (line item)
$23.3 million = Partial restoration of Professional Development funding
$146.32 million proposed additional public education allocation
This investment would begin the process to restore funding to our public schools over a three-year period and give local school boards discretion over how to best utilize those restored funds. The UEA urges local boards of education to consider the following for the restored WPU funding:
- Restore school non-attendance, furlough and professional development days
- Restore cuts made to school programs
- Reduce class sizes to pre-2007 levels
Restore school employee wage and benefit reductions and deferrals
Until public education funding is fully restored, Utah legislators should resist siphoning off precious education dollars for pilot programs and education experiments.
- Printable UEA FY2015 Public Education Budget Brief
- Current Public Education Budget