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Utah Legislature: Lawmakers postpone decisions on education budget

SALT LAKE CITY — After more than three hours of debate, mainly arguing whether to make education budget cuts that would affect programs or classrooms, lawmakers put off a final decision until Thursday.

"We'll sleep on it," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper. He is co-chairman of the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee, which is assigned to figure out how to slice 5 percent or $102 million from the state education budget for fiscal year 2011, which begins July 1.

Lawmakers can skim 5 percent off the top of all programs or eliminate particular ones. They range from English Language Learning family literacy centers to financial and economic literacy education. The committee has spent weeks listening to emotional pleas from a myriad of program representatives.

Another option is to lower the amount of funding spent on each student. Reducing the "weighted pupil unit" would result in increased class sizes. State Superintendent Larry Shumway said, "The WPU is a number that means something."

Stephenson said lawmakers might be tempted to advocate for programs they may have helped implement. "But it's that classroom that is going to be suffering. … Our programs can take the 5 percent."

— Amy K. Stewart