Governor Proposes 4.75 Percent WPU Boost


UEA supports recommendation that includes new student growth, teacher supply money


Gov. Gary Herbert meets with Salt Lake Community
College students Dec. 9 prior to presenting his
recommendations for the FY2017 state budget.
(Photo: Scott Sommerdorf, Salt Lake Tribune)

In a press conference Dec. 9, Gov. Gary Herbert released a recommended FY2017 Utah state budget that directs $422 million in new tax revenue to public and higher education. His budget calls for $91 million to cover an anticipated 9,700 new students and another $130 million to add 4.75 percent to the Weighted Pupil Unit, the basic public school funding mechanism. The budget also proposes $9.5 million in teacher supply money, up from $6 million this year.

“Everyone should know my No. 1 budget priority since I came into office is education,” Gov. Herbert said. “It’s not all about the money, but it is some about the money, so we’re putting the bulk of this new money into education. Seventy percent of the new money is going into education.”

The Governor’s proposed public education budget matches very closely with the budget Utah Education Association representatives encouraged the governor to adopt in meetings with the governor and his staff over recent weeks. The UEA strongly supports the Governor’s proposed investments in the WPU, student enrollment growth and providing educators with classroom supply money.

“We appreciate that Gov. Herbert continues to listen to the concerns of teachers as we meet with him,” said UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh. “His proposed budget represents a significant and worthwhile investment in Utah’s schoolchildren and the state’s economy. It goes a long way toward addressing the critical needs in Utah’s grossly underfunded public school classrooms.”

In his press conference, the Governor emphasized that by making a significant investment in the WPU, the money will flow to school districts, where he believes local officials can spend it most effectively to address specific needs. In recent years, the Legislature has been less apt to add to the WPU, preferring instead to specify where the money goes.

The UEA agrees with the Governor’s position that local school boards should have the flexibility to address priorities specific to their individual schools’ needs, whether that be providing classes small enough for one-on-one attention, purchasing new technology, restoring teacher training opportunities or offering competitive compensation to attract and retain quality school employees.

The proposed 4.75 percent increase to the Weighted Pupil Unit amounts to about $206 more for every Utah student. According to Gov. Herbert, his budget would bring education spending increases to $1.7 billion over the five years since the state emerged from the Great Recession. “It’s a good start,” he said. “It’s not enough. My plan is to invest another billion over the next five years into public education.”

The Utah State Board of Education proposed a budget that includes a 2 percent WPU increase and $100 million directed to purchasing learning devices for students and train teachers on incorporating technology into their classrooms. Where the Governor prefers giving control over spending to local school districts, the board sees a need for targeted funding to support a statewide technology plan, said Board President Dave Crandall.

The Legislative Fiscal Analyst has announced that the state can expect an overall $561 million increase in state tax revenue for next fiscal year. More than 70 percent of that money would go to public schools and colleges under the Governor's plan, putting total education funding at $4.4 billion. The Governor’s budget proposal includes no tax cuts or tax increases. It also would not add to the state's debt.

The governor’s annual budget proposal represents his recommendations to the Utah Legislature, which is ultimately responsible for passing a final state spending plan. The 45-day 2016 Utah General Legislative Session begins January 25.

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