POLITICS + GOVERNMENT
Voters will now say whether Utah changes how the state funds education
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah education fund will be subject to a vote, wherein voters will decide whether to alter Utah’s current funding system for K-12 and higher education.
On the last day of the legislative session this past Friday, lawmakers approved a series of bills asking voters in the upcoming 2024 election if they want to amend Utah’s constitution to “use a portion of revenue growth” to fund education. That money would also account for changes in student enrollment and inflation.
The new language proposes income tax funds for children and people with disabilities and “to support other state needs after the fulfillment of [this] requirement.”
Lawmakers argue they need flexibility so income tax can fund other state needs.
“The earmark is not resulting in increased education spending,” said Rep. Karen Peterson, R-Clinton, during Friday’s floor debate. “And if we care about increased education spending, we should put education spending into the constitution.”
House Democrats weren’t sold.
“A commitment to ‘use a portion’ is pretty meaningless when you think about the fact that it can be very, very de minimis, it can be small.” said Rep. Brian King, D- Salt Lake City. “There’s no commitment here in the language of this constitutional change.”
Education groups sign-on to change Utah education fund
Utah’s State Superintendents Association and the Local School Board Association support this change.
“There’s language now in the constitution that every year we’re going to get money for inflation, so that’s guaranteed now if the constitutional amendment passes,” said Dr. Lexi Cunningham representing those groups. “If it goes back to the original version of completely removing the earmark, we would not support that.”
They’ve also been promised to get additional funding in a bill that will freeze enrollment numbers for the next five years.
“That legislation would cover schools with declining enrollment, that will help us with the WPU.”
The other promises another 2% Weighted Pupil Unit increase in 2024 once the constitutional amendment passes.
Spoke with @Lexi_USSA w/State Superintendents/local school boards/business ed.
They support amending Utah’s constitution to change how Utah funds education so long as the following happens.
They DO NOT support just getting rid of the earmark all together.@kslnewsradio pic.twitter.com/Ikk93O6hv3
— Lindsay Aerts (@LindsayOnAir) March 3, 2023
After the passage of the bills, House democrats released the following statement:
“We cannot support these measures to remove the constitutional earmark on public education funding because education funding is essential to our state’s future and should never be used as a bargaining chip. We strongly believe that education funding is non-negotiable, and as Democrats, we believe we must continue to keep public education a priority. The tax cuts in 3H.B. 54 do not outweigh the benefits of removing the earmark on education funding. The language in S.J.R. 10 is vague, and the House Democrats worry that the way it is written will result in a significant loss of investment into public education, making education funding subject to the whims of political tides. The 2023 General Session has seen many actions that have led to the defunding and undermining of public education, as demonstrated by the passage of H.B. 215 Funding for Teacher Salaries and Optional Education Opportunities. With less than 12 hours left in the 2023 General Session, the question remains for the Utah House Democrats: why did this need to be passed today? We have another year before the 2024 election to continue to work and find a good solution for all.”
If voters approve that earmark, the state portion of the food sales tax will come off in 2025.
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