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Despite budget shortfall, Utah lawmakers say education funding will go up

(Exterior of the Utah State Capitol complex. Credit: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY – With all of the budget cuts expected to happen because of the COVID-19 shortfall, some lawmakers say education funding won’t be cut, at all.  In fact, they say they’ve found a way to increase the education budget. 

Senate President Stuart Adams says lawmakers actually prepared for this kind of problem.  Utah has two rainy day funds.  One is filled with ongoing sources of incoming revenue and the other has one-time funds.  Adams says they’re going to have to dip into the second fund, slightly, but the ongoing fund is the key to keeping education funding intact.

“It’s really hard to pay for teachers’ salaries with one-time money.  So, we’re using that working rainy day fund to backfill education,” he says.

Adams acknowledges Utah is at the bottom when it comes to per-student spending.  However, he says we’re regularly in the top ten states when it comes to the percentage of state budget aimed at education.

“We’ve always tried to fund 50-55 percent of our budget for education, and we’re doing it again,” Adams says.

He tells KSL’s Dave and Dujanovic they committed to increasing the weighted pupil unit during the last legislative session.  That’s the number of money schools get based on the number of students they teach.

 

“We’re actually going to increase the WPU by at least 1.8 percent,” Adams says.

However, if education and social service funding is kept intact, that means other parts of the budget will go through even more significant cuts.  Adams says lawmakers didn’t want to increase taxes to fill funding gaps.

“We’re very aware that this virus is something that has affected our health, both physical and mental.  Some of the other areas of the budget will be cut, and we’re trying to do our best to be surgical,” he says.