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Joint panel OKs $1.98 billion for education

The Joint Executive Appropriations Committee Tuesday approved a $1.98 billion budget for public education, but not without adding language giving two community colleges control over services aimed at the business community.

Now, business people wanting to learn a new skill for work, such as a software program, can only do so at Salt Lake Community College or Utah Valley State College, Orem. Students used to have the option of taking such "custom-fit training" from the nearby Mountainland and Wasatch South applied technology centers, or ATCs.The State Office of Education oversees nine ATC service regions in Utah.

"I think it's an unfortunate intent language that precludes competition for possible programs of custom-fit in the regions," said Robert Brems, state associate superintendent of applied tech-nol-ogy.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Scott Bean also opposed the move, which he says bypasses oversight of ATC boards. Those boards include members of the business community and higher and public education officials.

Rand Johnson, assistant to the president of SLCC, said long-term business participants in custom-fit training have complained about confusion resulting from providing that sort of training at ATCs and community colleges.

ATC custom-fit training was to receive $2.5 million in fiscal year 1999. But a large chunk of that will go to higher education instead, Brems said. The community colleges also will receive custom-fit tuition.

In other budget matters, the education budget includes $90 million in new money. That includes a 3 percent increase in the weighted-pupil unit recommended by the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

The subcommittee also recommended an additional 1 percent increase in the WPU, about $15 million, which would come from the critical needs funds.

The WPU, or the most basic funding used to educate students, is to be discussed by Executive Appropriations later today as part of their discussion of state employee pay. Much of the WPU goes toward teachers' salaries.

The education budget did not include "hot spot" funding items such as $13.6 million for class-size reduction in grades seven and eight, $3.75 million for teacher supplies or $2 million for 21st Century Schools, or educational reform including charter schools. Those amounts are contained in legislation fiscal notes.

Executive Appropriations has set aside $10 million for additional education needs.