Utah Gov. Spencer Cox wants to give every Utah K-12 classroom teacher and school-based teacher specialists $6,000 in additional compensation annually.

According to the governor’s budget recommendations unveiled Thursday, the Cox administration is proposing compensation of $4,600 salary and the remainder in benefits.

“I’m proposing $200 million directly to teachers. That’s $6,000 total compensation per teacher direct to teachers. This is not through the weighted pupil unit, this is not to districts to determine how to (appropriate it), this is going directly to teachers,” Cox said in a meeting with reporters earlier in the day.

The governor’s proposal also includes a 5% increase to the value of the weighted pupil unit, which is the basic building block of education funding and how compensation funding has been appropriated historically. The WPU gives districts and charter schools flexibility to direct funding to their specific needs so it has been their preferred means of education funding for many years.

The Utah State Board of Education’s budget request included a total 10% increase to the value of the WPU, which included a 6.5% increase on the WPU, in addition to the amount automatically included in the Utah Legislature’s base budget.

Overall, Cox is recommending more than $1 billion for public education funding, which includes $200 million ongoing for teacher pay starting in the next fiscal year. The proposal also seeks “an additional $200.7 million one time to ensure the raise is enacted before the 2022-2023 school year ends,” according to his proposal.

“Our teachers deserve our deepest respect and more compensation that makes the profession attractive,” the documents state.

Gov. Spencer Cox, surrounded by teachers, education administrators and community council members, announces his fiscal year 2024 budget recommendations, which include salary raises for teachers, at Centennial Junior High School in Kaysville on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Higher compensation for teachers may also usher in a school choice voucher system, as proposed during the 2022 legislative session. Cox then said he would veto the Hope Scholarship Bill, saying teacher pay needed to improve first.

HB331 would have offered parents a means-tested scholarship that could be used for private school tuition, home-school pods and home schooling, in an early version of the legislation. The bill failed in the House after advancing from the House Revenue and Taxation Committee by one vote.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, was recently appointed chairwoman of the House Education Committee.

At the time, Cox said he was “all in on vouchers. But we have a long way to go before we get there.”

Utah Gov. Cox says he’ll veto school choice voucher bill — until teachers make $60K
Which Western state retains schoolteachers better than any other in the country? The answer may surprise you

The governor’s proposal also includes $40.8 million for optional all-day kindergarten and $70.7 million for at-risk students.

“We appreciate the governor supporting our board priorities of effective teachers and leaders, early learning, and safe and healthy schools,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson.

The governor has focused on issues “that will make a difference in student outcomes,” she said.

The budget also reflects some of the legislative priorities of the Utah Education Association, such as expansions of optional full-day kindergarten, increased funding for students at risk of academic failure and providing “at least a 6.5% increase on the WPU, for a total WPU increase of at least 10% including inflation and student enrollment growth.”

The governor’s proposal aims to elevate the teaching profession to “encourage Utah’s best and brightest to become educators. Rising cost of living and a low unemployment rate have decreased our ability to recruit and retain the best candidates. Funding from the WPU is flexible and can also be used to address local recruitment and retention concerns.”

Cox’s proposal also includes an additional $7.2 million for scholarships to help paraprofessionals become licensed schoolteachers. “The state received nearly double the number of applications than could be funded” in the previous fiscal year, according to the governor’s recommendations.

Teachers, education administrators and community council members react as Gov. Spencer Cox announces that his fiscal year 2024 budget recommendations will include salary raises for educators at Centennial Junior High School in Kaysville on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The proposal also gives a nod to small schools, particularly those in rural settings, that “face a range of operational challenges that larger schools do not.”

The proposal states, “The governor supports USBE’s efforts to develop a scale-of-operations factor that can be used to calculate supplemental funding for these schools.”

Utah Education Association President Renée Pinkney responded to the budget proposal in a statement:

“The Utah Education Association applauds Utah Gov. Spencer Cox for making teacher salaries a top priority in his proposed budget. We also appreciate the significant ongoing investments in public education made by the governor and the Utah Legislature in previous years, including during the height of the pandemic.

“The UEA’s vision is a safe, equitable school for every child. This starts with a highly qualified educator paid a professional salary. In addition, we must solve the larger school staff and labor shortage. Ideally, investments in our school educators and staff will be made in a way that allows local school boards to direct the funding where it is most needed and appropriate for each school district.

The statement continued, “We look forward to working with our elected representatives this legislative session and encourage legislators to avoid distractions that will only divert our attention from the substantive issues facing our schools, our students and our dedicated school workforce.”