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FY2016 Public Education Budget Summary

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FY2016 Budget Summary, by UEA Policy and Research Director Jay Blain

During the 2015 Legislative Session, the UEA supported the goals of Governor Gary Herbert’s budget proposal, which called for a 6.25 percent increase on the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU). The purpose for putting the increase on the WPU is to give local districts control over how to address local needs with much-needed additional funding. The UEA also requested funding for enrollment growth throughout the public education system and partial restoration of professional development funds that were cut during the economic downturn.

As the session progressed, the UEA Legislative Team heard WPU increase proposals in the range of 2.5 to 3 percent. Due to the efforts and contacts made by many in the education community and by those who attended the “Stand Up for Public Schools” rally, the final budget restored items cut during a 2 percent budget-cutting “exercise”, funded new student growth and added 4 percent to the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU). While this wasn’t the 6.25 percent asked for by the Governor, it was the largest increase in several years. When all the budget items are added, education received about $510 million in new funding, very close to the Governor’s request.

A significant amount of the new $510 million is one-time money and includes money going to higher education for building construction and other uses. The legislature also elected to direct money to special projects rather than trusting local control by putting it on the WPU where school districts have more flexibility to use the funding where it is most needed. Even with this new investment, overall Utah public education funding remains below where it was in 2007, prior to the recession.

Other budget highlights include:

  • Teacher supply money was funded at $6 million, which is a $1 million increase, but with the same distribution formulas. The increase should ensure that the money covers growth in the number of teachers across the system statewide.
  • SB97: Property Tax Equalization passed. This is the first statewide tax increase for education in many years. This bill increases the basic rate levied by the legislature. It raises $75 million in new revenue distributed as follows: 75 percent to increase the guarantees to the voted levy and 25 percent to state capital outlay programs. It is not an automatic increase of 3 percent new money to every district, but rather a help to property tax ‘poor’ districts to assist in their efforts to raise more money when they levy the voted leeway tax.
  • A new building for USDB in Salt Lake was funded. One-time money of about $14.5 million was appropriated for this building.
  • An attempt to increase the contribution of local districts from 25 to 50 percent to Local Replacement Fund for charter schools was defeated for now, although the 25 percent contribution was made to a true 25 percent for all districts. This issue will surely be revisited in upcoming sessions.
  • A charter school funding task force was established to examine how charter schools are funded.

A couple of disappointments for public education budget matters included:

  • The failure to fund HB331: Professional Learning Grants Program. This bill was asking for the restoration of $30 million in professional learning grants to districts.
  • Failure of HB54: Public Education Increased Funding Program. Even though UEA had some difficulty with this bill because it had merit pay components, it did try to increase the income tax to bring more money in for education. The bill failed in its first committee hearing.
  • The manner in which enrollment in neighborhood public schools and charter schools wasn’t standardized but rather the difference was extended for one more year.

Even though the goals of the Governor’s budget were not met, the legislature did stretch some from where they originally were going to go. Everybody in the education community and even the business community will continue to impress on legislators the importance of investing in our future by investing in education.

News about the public education budget

WPU Increase of 4% Passes Committee – March 6, 2015

The Executive Appropriations Committee approved a funding proposal that restores all the items cut by the Committee in its 2% budget-cutting “exercise”, funds new student growth and adds 4% to the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU). Many in the education community expressed disappointment that the WPU increase was not higher, considering the Governor’s request for a 6.25% WPU increase. (See more about the budget.)

'Base' Budget Passes with 2% Ed Spending Cut – Feb. 10, 2015

The House and Senate both gave final approval to a base budget, SB1 (1st sub.): Public Education Base Budget, that slashes public education funding by more than 2%. In addition, the approved budget creates a policy change that directs more funding from school districts to charter schools. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate. It ran into minor opposition in the House where it passed by a vote of 56-17.

While a few legislators have indicated willingness to restore many of the cuts and make what they call “significant” new investments in education, it has yet to be seen what “significant” means or where those investments will be made. There are many groups on the Hill vying for a share of the revenue.

About this year’s Base Budget: Legislators are required by law to pass a base budget early in the session that sets the benchmark for all statewide spending. This year, despite an anticipated budget windfall, the Executive Appropriations Committee asked all state departments to submit a budget that cuts 2% from the previous year’s spending. According to members of the committee, this “exercise,” or “stress test” as it has been described, serves to identify areas of inefficiency and potential cuts.

The base budget includes line item cuts to USTAR ($6.2 million), To and From Transportation ($6 million), the K-3 Reading Program ($2.6 million) and in Concurrent Enrollment ($3,000,000). It also cuts the Flexible Allocation line item ($23,106,000), which is used to help school districts fund employee retirement and Social Security costs (see the full subcommittee recommendation).

Of particular concern to many education stakeholders was a cut to the line item for Charter School Replacement funding ($20.56 million). This not only diverts local property taxes away from districts to charter schools, it also marks a shift in policy done through a budget process rather than being vetted and discussed by the entire Legislature. This shift puts an increased share of taxpayer funds under the control of unelected charter school governing board members and out of the control and accountability of elected officials in districts.

On Friday, Feb. 6, UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh gave a moving presentation to the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee (listen to her comments). After presenting the UEA’s Issue Brief about the public education budget, Gallagher-Fishbaugh reviewed information from a survey of teachers conducted by the UEA asking them where the state should invest to have the most positive impact on student outcomes. “The most pressing need, identified as a top concern by more than 88 percent of teachers, was reducing class size. This was followed by increasing salaries and benefits to attract and retain quality teachers, which was identified by 78 percent as a priority,” she said.

Gallagher-Fishbaugh also shared selected stories from classroom teachers about how legislative decisions impact teachers, students and classrooms. Members of the committee were also provided with stories from educators in their respective districts. After sharing a few stories, she said, “The bottom line is that our teachers are feeling overworked and under-appreciated…our students are over-tested and under-served…and our classrooms are overcrowded and underfunded.” She concluded by asking the legislators to support Governor Herbert’s proposed budget and his requested 6.25% WPU increase.

Comments from the House floor: Rep. Carol Spackman Moss said she received feedback from concerned constituents who don’t understand the purpose of the budget cuts. The recession has left our schools running very efficiently, she said, and she questioned the overall reasoning for the 2% exercise.

Rep. Marie Poulson discussed how the charter school replacement fund was cut, noting that this is a major shift in policy reflected in the budget. “If we are going to have this discussion, pass legislation, not a budget item,” said Poulson. This cut shifts 50% of funding charter schools to local school districts. It hurts charter schools as well as neighborhood schools, she said.

Rep. Joel Briscoe discussed cuts to concurrent enrollment as well as almost $3 million cut from K-3 reading programs. He acknowledged that the house sponsor (Eliason) expects all the money to be put back in. If that’s the case, “then why did we do it?” asked Rep. Briscoe. “Can’t we determine how good programs are without going through this exercise?”

UEA Supports Governor’s Proposed FY2016 education budget – Dec. 11, 2014

Largest WPU increase in 25 years helps restore funding lost during Great Recession


Gov. Gary Herbert presented his FY2016 budget
proposal at Granite Park Jr. High, Dec. 11.
(Photo: Steve Griffin, Salt Lake Tribune)

In a press conference Dec. 11, Gov. Gary Herbert released his recommended FY2016 Utah state budget that directs $342.7 million in new tax revenue to public education. His budget calls for $58 million to cover an anticipated 8,000 new students and another $161 million to add 6.25 percent to the WPU, the largest increase in a quarter century.

The Utah Education Association strongly supports the Governor’s proposed investments in the WPU, student enrollment growth, technology infrastructure and providing educators with classroom supply money.

“The proposed $342.7 million public education increase is a significant and worthwhile investment in Utah’s schoolchildren and the state’s economy. It also goes a long way toward restoring funding to pre-recession levels and positions us to begin addressing the additional resources so desperately needed in Utah’s grossly underfunded public school classrooms,” said UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh.

The Governor’s budget reflects his and the legislature’s long-standing stated belief that the primary way to increase funding for public education is to grow the economy and invest the resulting tax proceeds in education, she noted.

Investing in the WPU allows local school boards 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…more

UEA's Position on the FY2016 Public Education Budget – December 2014


Utah per-student public education funding has declined significantly since the beginning of the Great Recession. Per-student state funding for K-12 education remains down 5.6% from its 2008 pre-recession level (before inflation).* Over this period, school districts have increased class sizes, eliminated teacher training opportunities, cut student instructional days and reduced school employee take-home pay in order to balance budgets.

In December 2014, Gov. Gary Herbert recommended a FY2016 Utah state budget that increases state public education spending by $342.7 million, the largest increase in a quarter century. His budget calls for $58 million to cover anticipated enrollment increases and another $161 million to add 6.25% to the WPU. The Legislative Fiscal Analyst’s Office has announced that the state can expect an overall $638 million increase in state tax revenue for next fiscal year.

UEA’s Position:

  • The UEA supports the Governor’s proposed 6.25% increase in the WPU.
  • The UEA strongly supports the Governor’s proposed investments in student enrollment growth and providing educators with classroom supply money.
  • The UEA also supports an investment of $24 million (or an additional 1% on the WPU) in educator professional development funding. This represents partial restoration of the $78 million cut from teacher professional development during the recession.
  • Investing in the WPU allows local school boards 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 UEA encourages local school boards to consider the following priorities for restored WPU funding:
    • Reduce class sizes to pre-2007 levels, allowing for more one-on-one classroom attention
    • Provide cost-of-living salary adjustments for school employees
    • Restore school non-attendance, furlough and professional development days
    • Restore cuts made to school programs such as arts, music, PE, etc.
    • Restore school employee wage and benefit reductions and deferrals
    • Begin the process of increasing teacher salaries to the national average over a five-year period
  • The Governor’s proposed budget reflects his and the legislature’s long-standing stated belief that the primary way to increase funding for public education is to grow the economy and invest the resulting tax proceeds in education.
  • School employee retirement and Social Security should be funded as a separate item “above the line.”
  • The UEA encourages the Utah Legislature to consider the following in relation to the public education budget:
    • Reject the siphoning off of precious education dollars through earmarks to unproven and unaccountable education experiments and pilot programs.
    • Direct investments in urgent school needs through an additional WPU increase to allow school districts flexibility and local control in determining budget priorities.
    • Develop a long-term plan to fund public education and ensure a quality public school for every child.
  • Even with the proposed increase, Utah’s education system remains compromised by lack of adequate funding. Utah remains last in the nation in per-student public education investment. While Utah taxpayers once spent a high amount on public education relative to incomes, that is no longer true when compared to other states.

Printable UEA FY2016 Public Education Budget Brief (PDF) 

Public Education Budget Archives