UTAH STATE CAPITOL—Another legislative session concluded March 8 as lawmakers rushed to push through last minute bills. Among those with a significant impact was an agreement between the legislature and Our Schools Now, a group advocating for an initiative that would generate $700 million for education through raising income and sales tax.
Lawmakers found common ground with Our Schools Now on better ways to fund education in the state. The consensus was to not only increase funding now, but also to work on fixing issues in the tax system that have led to a funding imbalance in education.
Under the plan, education will receive an additional $292 million this year, according to a release. In addition to making a number of tax changes, the legislature has committed to place a question on the ballot that by 2023 could lead to an additional $845 per pupil.
“This compromise is a win-win for the future of Utah,” said Gov. Gary Herbert in the statement. “Education has always been my number one priority. This major investment in per-student spending is going to make a noticeable difference for student success in Utah. This solution also allows us to invest in local road needs and make significant progress toward reducing some of the imbalances in our tax code. I appreciate Our Schools Now for bringing this issue to the forefront and the legislature for responding to the encouragement of the public, and look forward to working to pass the November ballot question and implementing the will of the voters.”
According to material provided the details of the effort that will replace the Teacher and Student Success Act ballot initiative are as follows:
• Creation of the Teacher and Student Success Account: This account will be used to directly fund schools at the local level and will include specific guidelines, management and oversight. The equivalent of 1.5 percent WPU will be deposited into the fund in the first year of the program. Currently, that is equivalent to approximately $47 million and will pass through the local education agency (LEA). Distributions from this account will begin in 2020 directly to schools through the TSSA.
• Establishing a Working Group: The legislature will work with Our Schools Now and other education stakeholders to determine the administration of the Teacher and Student Success Account.
• 10-cent Gas Tax Ballot Question: HB491 authorizes a non-binding question to go on the ballot. HJR 20 directs the Lt. Governor to place a question on the ballot that would ask voters if the state should increase the gas tax by the equivalent of 10 cents per gallon, indexed for inflation. This would generate approximately $170 million in new revenue for the Transportation Fund in the first year. Of that, 30 percent would be dedicated to local roads and the remaining 70 percent would be used to offset an equivalent cut in funding for transportation that would then go toward education.
• Freezing the Basic Rate and indexing the Basic Levy: HB293 freezes the state basic property tax rate for five years and uses new revenue to equalize student spending among all LEAs. It also indexes the basic levy and places new revenue into the Teacher and Student Success Account subject to periodic review.
• Amendments to Education Rainy Day Fund: During the interim, the legislature will work to change the statute to allow the use of Rainy Day Funds to continue the tradition of funding student enrollment growth and inflation even in economic downturns.
• Local Funding of Technology: SB144 authorizes a local school board to unlock significant new revenue sources for technology and infrastructure projects and programs in our schools.
“This is the year of education in Utah,” said Our Schools Now members Gail Miller, Scott Anderson and Ron Jibson in the statement. “The actions of this legislature can lead to an $845 increase in per-pupil spending. It’s gratifying that we can come together with the governor and the legislature to take such a major step to improve outcomes for our students. We look forward to reaching out to voters across the state for the benefit of our children, and our state, in support of the November ballot proposal.”