SALT LAKE CITY — A deal has been struck on a bill that would dramatically rework how education is funded in Utah.
Locked arm-in-arm at a news conference on Wednesday, political and education leaders announced the agreement.
"Everybody’s going to feel good with what we’ve come up today as kind of this grand agreement to work together and provide consistent and increasing funding for education," said Governor Gary Herbert.
The Utah Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, agreed to join others and back Senate Joint Resolution 9, a proposed constitutional amendment that shifts services for the disabled and children to the income tax, which is currently earmarked exclusively for education. House Speaker Brad Wilson has said it could free up as much as $650 million to pay for other things.
In exchange, lawmakers agreed to do a number of things:
- Put $331 million more into education
- Put $75 million into a rainy day fund for education
- Fund enrollment growth and inflation factors for the first time ever
- Fund the weighted per pupil unit at 6%, a formula used to decide class resources and teacher salaries
"That means we have something we’ve never had before," Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, said of the funding for enrollment growth and inflation. "That funding framework for education that’s predictable."
The entire deal is contingent on Utah voters to approve it in November.
The deal came together on Wednesday once the UEA agreed to support it alongside the PTA, school boards and superintendents. For UEA President Heidi Matthews, funding the WPU was critical.
"We said hashtag start with six! And that was a significant statement of goodwill," she said.
The UEA is the state's largest teachers union and a force in Utah politics. Their support for the bill will be critical to getting it past voters in November, if SJR 9 passes the legislature as it is expected to.
The deal earned House Majority Whip Mike Schultz, R-Ogden, a standing ovation as the bill was presented in the legislature. But House Democrats still had concerns.
"Now is not the time to raid the education piggy bank for other needs," said Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper.
But lawmakers insist they will live up to their promise as they put the issue before voters. Late Wednesday, they re-opened their budget to give the WPU funding. The UEA said it would work in good faith with lawmakers on the proposed constitutional amendment -- but Matthews declined to say if she would be voting for it.
"I think the wording of that bill is going to be very important," she told reporters. "So I look forward to the consensus building in the next few months and working on all of that."
Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, the sponsor of the proposed constitutional amendment, said he would work with them.
"It’s never final until it’s on the ballot and the ballots have to be mailed out," he told FOX 13. "So if there’s tweaks, if there are opportunities to make changes to help bring people along, by all means let’s work together."
Utah State Schools Superintendent Sydnee Dickson told FOX 13 she did not believe the deal meant education funding would be raided to pay for other things. She viewed adding services for children and the disabled as something they could deal with.
"There’s this sense that if we open it up to children and those with disabilities that we’re competing for things," she said. "I look at it very differently ,that it’s a holistic way to look at society, we’re part of that."