With a basic budget topping $1 billion for the first time in Utah history, along with several new mandates and some disappointments, education leaders have their marching orders for another year.
Even a billion dollars won't take Utah out of the basement in per-child spending for education, compared with sister states, but it was about half of the total revenue available for all state needs."One of the things I saw from all the groups concerned this year was a positive attitude regarding education," said State Superintendent Scott W. Bean. "We understand the problems the state has."
Deputy Superintendent Laurie Chivers, while generally satisfied, felt education may have suffered a bit as the Legislature divided up this year's "overage."
"I felt pretty good about our ongoing budget, but we don't get our share of the supplementals," said Chivers. Only about 26 percent of the "extra" money shared among state needs went to education, she noted.
This year's Legislature worked on a couple of issues that educators hope will increase school revenues in the future.
Better management of Utah school trust lands so that they generate more money was the objective of HB416. In its original state, the bill would have created a whole new management format, but it ran into opposition from Gov. Mike Leavitt and was amended to provide more time to study the issue. The 1994 Legislature will receive recommendations for managing the lands.
Changes in redevelopment agency guidelines also are expected to reduce the amount of tax revenues school districts are losing to RDA projects. The amendments, worked out in a year of negotiating among all the interested groups, put some restrictions on RDA development that will provider greater protection for affected property owners and reduce the length of time that businesses get tax breaks.
The topic of school fees generated considerable conversation on Capitol Hill, but in the end, only one bill passed. That one creates a legislative task force to pick the problem apart in detail and come back to the 1994 session with recommendations.
The governor's Centennial School project received $2.6 million to get it off the ground. Up to 200 schools will get a share of the money to do bottom-up restructuring of their schools.
Trying to create more equity in school district capital outlay income proved one of the session's uphill battles. SB199 requires all school districts to contribute 2 mills of property tax income, over four years, for a pool from which the poorest districts could draw. It passed by three votes in the Senate, and 48-23 in the House. Leavitt said he may consider a veto of the bill.
SB199 proponents were trying to rectify this year a controversial bill passed last session that attempted to achieve some capital outlay equity by taking money from rich districts and giving it to the poor. The new version had the same problems as the old, however. It pits district against district, and it will require tax increases in some districts to meet the mandate.
Public education's score card
Highlights of the public-education budget include:
Minimum program 7.26% increase $1.001 billion
Per-child state contribution up from $1,490 $1,539
Technology initiative $9.0 million
At-risk program $3.2 million
Class-size reduction, kindergarten through third grade $3.6 million
Centennial schools $2.6 million
Applied technology for high school students $1.2 million
Increase for special education $5.2 million