|UEA President Heidi Matthews explains
why teachers support ‘Our Schools Now’
Historic levels of public ed funding thanks to 'Our Schools Now' - March 9, 2018
For more than a year prior to the 2018 Legislative Session, the UEA worked with members of the business community to increase revenue for schools. The group formed the Our Schools Now coalition and introduced The Teacher and Student Success Act, which included several key components:
- Established the Teacher and Student Success Fund to distribute revenue on a WPU basis;
- Allowed 25% of the new revenue each year to be used for salary and benefits; and
- Directed the remaining 75% of new revenue to go to the individual schools for work on student achievement.
This plan, and the accompanying initiative, helped to drive the conversation on school funding in the months leading up to the 2018 legislative session. Desperate to resolve this issue, the Legislature worked with the coalition on a compromise. These negotiations impacted budget talks right up until the last night of the session.
The compromise led to a change in the way school funding is distributed. Historically, educators have looked to the WPU as a measure of funding increase. This year, new pieces are added to the education funding stream, making it difficult to focus only on the WPU.
The approved budget fully funded new student growth and increased the traditional WPU by just 2.5%, which most school districts argue barely covers inflation costs. But new funding allocations significantly increase the overall budget. For example, a property tax adjustment measure (House Bill 293) provides an additional $36 million to be used for property tax equalization. It also creates a new property tax increment on the basic rate indexed to the WPU increase, generating $18.5 million this year. In addition, $46.5 million from the Education Fund will be placed in the Flexible Allocation line item and distributed on a WPU basis.
Other items of note funded in the budget include:
- $9 million enhancement for at-risk students (in addition, homelessness and chronic absenteeism were added as risk factors)
- $500,000 additional on-going for teacher supply money, bringing the total to $5.5 million.
- $23.6 million increase in the school land trust program distribution.
Combined, these increases approach an equivalent growth of 7% on the WPU. When all was said and done, some long-term building blocks were put in place for some sustainable education funding increases into the foreseeable future for Utah public education.
Our Schools Now, legislators in talks to increase public ed funding – March 7, 2018
Leaders of the Our Schools Now initiative are talking with legislators about a proposal to make significant new investments in education funding without the need to go to a costly public Our Schools Now vote in November. Under the proposal, public education funding will increase by an estimated $299 million in Fiscal Year 2019, and increase each year to nearly $600 million in new funding by Fiscal Year 2023.
Overview of the Proposal:
- New revenue would be generated by a 10 cent per gallon gas tax increase* and by adjusting the property tax rate rather than by increasing sales and income taxes as in the original Our School Now proposal.
- Estimated cost of gas tax increase to the average driver is $48 per year.
- Estimated cost of adjusting the property tax rate is less than $3 for each $100,000 in home value.
- *The gas tax increase would be placed on the November 2018 ballot.
- Additionally, the legislature is making a long-term commitment to use the growth in state revenues to bring the total to over $600 million per year.
UEA President Heidi Matthews said the proposal “represents a significant and long-overdue increase in school funding. “But let me be clear…this proposal, and the Our Schools Nowinitiative itself for that matter, falls short of providing ALL the tools and resources our students need to be successful. But it is a good start.”
Should the new funding not come through from the legislature, Our Schools Now would move forward with getting the initiative on the ballot and approved in November. “Either way, we’ve made significant progress in rallying the public to the cause of education,” said Matthews.
“It’s important to note that we would not have legislative backing for this significant increase without the hard work and dedication of those who gathered Our Schools Now signatures,” said Matthews. “Our success was a wake-up call. It demonstrated to legislators that there is substantial public support for additional school funding.”
In the News
“The Our Schools Now initiative is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really make a major change for the future of our students and for Utah public schools.
” UEA President Heidi Matthews
Our Schools Now is an initiative to allow Utahns to vote on a ballot measure to make major state investments in educational performance and improvement. Once approved, the initiative would generate about $700 million per year for Utah schools, money that would go directly to Utah classrooms. According to initiative organizers, the money could be used to reduce class sizes, increase teacher pay, provide updated technology in schools, add counselors and specialists…or other needs determined locally by the school.
“If we are serious about every child’s future, we must focus on what works,” said UEA President Heidi Matthews. “This means resourcing all schools so kids can succeed. Resourced and cared for public schools are our best bet for setting every student in Utah off toward a great future.”
A poll conducted in October 2017 indicates 54 percent of Utahns support the initiative. As of October, Our Schools Now organizers also say they have collected one-fourth the required number of signatures for spot on 2018 ballot.
Business-led for Economic Development
The initiative was started by the business community with the goal to improve the state’s economic performance.
“When we invest in education we are assuring that Utah can compete in a global marketplace,” said Scott Anderson, president and CEO of Zions Bank. “That means future generations can obtain well-paying, high-skill jobs and raise their families in a growing Utah economy.”
Announcement of the Our Schools Now initiative follows a report issued by the Utah Foundation showing that Utah budget decisions over the past twenty years have left public education with $1.6 billion less every year. This investment crisis has created teacher shortages and the lowest per-pupil spending in the country, hurting student learning and academic performance, according to an Our Schools Now press release.
“Our Schools Now is a win-win for all Utahns,” said Gail Miller, owner of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies. “Education is the number one economic development issue our state faces. Companies today, and in the future, need and want an educated work force. An investment in our schools now is truly an investment in Utah’s economic stability and individual opportunity.”
The Steering Committee of Our Schools Now reads like a “who’s who” of Utah business and community leaders. The committee includes Zion’s Bank President and CEO Scott Anderson, Larry H. Miller Group of Companies owner Gail Miller, retired Questar Chairman Ron Jibson, Salt Lake Chamber President and CEO Lane Beattie, former Utah Speaker of the House Nolan Karras, Utah PTA President Dawn Davies, former LDS Church General Young Women’s President Elaine Dalton and retired Hill Air Force Base Commander Major General Kevin Sullivan, among others.
Matthews and Executive Director Lisa Nentl-Bloom are also members of the Our Schools Now Steering Committee.
Recognizing the important role teachers play in educating students, Our Schools Now organizers reached out to the UEA for input. “It’s refreshing to see business and community leaders reach out to us, as teachers, for input into this initiative and invite us to be integral partners,” said Matthews. “Teachers have understood the needs of our students for a long time.”
The UEA Board of Directors voted unanimously on Nov. 18 to support the Our Schools Now initiative, although their support wasn’t a slam-dunk. It was only after months of back and forth with organizers of the initiative – making changes to give the Board some level of confidence that it met the needs of our students and teachers and there weren’t too many strings attached to the new funding – that the UEA gave its support, according to Matthews.
"I believe this initiative remains our single best hope for generating significant new resources and working toward equity in all of our schools throughout the state," said Matthews. "I hope everyone understands how critical it is to our students and our profession that we provide our full support."
For more information about Our Schools Now, and a funding estimate for each school in the state, visit OurSchoolsNow.com.
Additional 'Our Schools Now' information and resources: