Legislative report submitted by UEA Policy Ambassador Victoria Mauro, science teacher at Northwest Middle School in Salt Lake City School District
I’m betting many of you, like me, were brought up on the adage, ‘there are three things you should never talk about: money, religion, and politics.’ Clearly, as I write this UEA Policy Ambassador message I have overcome any aversion I may have possessed to talking about politics, but it still felt a little uncomfortable to talk about money. That is, until I watched my first Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee meeting and recognized the power of money to make vital changes to our educational institutions.
Whether we talk about it or not, money is the life blood of our capitalist system and in order to affect any meaningful change in education, we need the funding to support it. Learning about the state education budget was one of the most empowering things I have ever done as an educator. I finally felt able to spot the inequities in our system and could begin formulating a plan for addressing them. To start, I learned that Utah has one of the most equitable education funding distribution schemes in the country – each district levies the required basic property tax and all of that income gets sent to the state for redistribution. The per-pupil spending (or Weighted Pupil Unit, WPU) given to each district is distributed from money aggregated from all parts of the state, ensuring that districts are not stymied by lower property values.
However, we, of course, have the lowest per-pupil spending in the country – though this legislative session’s 6% increase to the WPU will do a lot to address that – and even our equitable funding scheme isn’t all that equitable. That was the conclusion made during my first Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee meeting in a report commissioned by the State Board of Education. The recommendation to address these disparities? Increase the WPU spending for our economically disadvantaged and Multi Language Learning students to provide districts with the funding required to support these learners.
Making this adjustment to the WPU would be a huge deal, as this funding would be “above-the-line” – a permanent part of the state education budget that we would not need to fight to renew each year. Listening to this meeting gave me such hope for the future of education in Utah as representatives clearly realized the importance of increasing education funding for our most disadvantaged populations.
Now we need to ensure that our representatives follow through. I recognize that we don’t all have the time to watch two-and-a-half-hour reruns of public committee hearings, but there are lots of things you can do to keep track of important funding discussions at the state house.
- You can read the UEA Under the Dome articles where members of the UEA Legislative team summarize key bills – look for Jay Blain for most funding-related tracking.
- You can sign up for the UEA Legislative Team’s weekly policy debrief.
- Finally, though it’s not directly education related, KUER has a great podcast called 45 Days that goes through important happenings in the legislative session each week.
So much of what happens to our education system seems to happen without our knowledge. Taking just a few minutes each week to stay updated on important happenings in the world of education policy can be incredibly empowering as we work to create a system that has the funding to support all of our students.