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Education funding still decreasing

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Randy Shumway, Deseret News columnist, should be congratulated for his excellent, recent article ("Fiscal negligence at the expense of our children," April 26). When he accuses our society of "continued misalignment of spending priorities" and urges greater "investment" in "thoughtful advancement in K-12 and higher education" he is, in my opinion, right on.

Unfortunately, in Utah that does not appear to be the case; we lag way behind our neighbors in educational funding. For the past three years, we have not even funded new students coming into the system.

True, this year saw some improvement with partial funding of new students. But per-pupil funding is still on the decline, not the increase.

The weighted pupil unit (WPU) is the basic unit for funding education in Utah. Since the closing of the recent legislative session, some politicians have claimed that, finally, this year the approved budget increased education funding. To support this point they say that the WPU was increased. In reality, I believe the opposite is true. Actually, the real WPU continued to decline.

It is true that the WPU value listed in the advertised legislation did increase. However, a significant portion of funding for that increase came by reducing what is called the "flexible allocation" line item, known in prior years as the Social Security and retirement line item. That allocation is an add-on to the WPU, increasing its real value.

So if you combine the reduced allocation for Social Security and retirement and the increased stated value, you have the "real" value of the WPU. It is this real value that decreased this last session.

The real effect in the districts is that they have less money for funding WPU needs. The "flexible allocation" has been the line used by many to mask actual changes to the WPU.

Adding on to that, no new funding was provided at all in the two previous years for new students (even though there were well over 20,000 such new students). One can see how the districts are falling behind in pupil and teacher support and in class sizes.

This trend must be reversed if we are to achieve the vision which Shumway describes. Otherwise, as he opines, "fiscal negligence" comes "at the expense of our children."

Kim Burningham is a member of the State Board of Education and the leader of Utahns for Ethical Government.