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Schools may get funds to cover revenues lost to fee waivers

SHARE Schools may get funds to cover revenues lost to fee waivers

Schools in low-income areas could be getting some extra money that would help make up for fee waivers granted to students coming from poverty-stricken homes.

Thursday the Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that would give schools $1.5 million to help with fee waivers that go to disadvantaged students.

The bill has been approved but not funded in past years, and the proposal has been on the Hill the past five years. But supporters said they are hopeful money will be appropriated for the bill this year since some lawmakers have had a change of heart — and the state is enjoying record surplus revenue.

"In past years I have vigorously worked to oppose the bill," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper. "But I have since come to the realization that the requirements of state and federal law to waive fees create a disproportionate burden on one school district opposed to another. I realized that equalization of funding is important, and there are some areas where there is savage inequalities among the districts."

Schools in poorer areas are required to grant fee waivers, yet there is currently no money in place to make up for the loss in fee revenue — schools eat the loss.

HB68, sponsored by Rep. Lou Shurtliff, D-Ogden, would allow $40 per child receiving a fee waiver. Districts would have to account for spending in annual uniform reports submitted to the Utah State Office of Education.

The funding will not completely cover all the money lost to fee waivers, but it does give schools some help. Some schools in districts like Salt Lake City and Ogden have as many as 50 percent of students qualifying for fee waivers.

Nonetheless, Stephenson said fees are a necessary burden for students because they put more money into the schools.

"Fees are an important component of education funding and require parents to be more involved since they are paying for things out of pocket," he said.

E-MAIL: terickson@desnews.com