Guv’s budget gives more for Utah education, especially science
State budget • About $2 of every $3 in new revenue would go to education.
Published: December 13, 2012 09:38AM
Updated: April 8, 2013 11:32PM
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Gov. Gary Herbert unveiled a budget proposal Wednesday that he says will not only help more Utahns gain college degrees and certificates, but also avoid “degrees to nowhere” — and lead to high-paying jobs in science and technology.

He called for investing $298 million more in the state’s educational system, including especially targeting programs that increase the number of degrees and certificates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“There is an essential and undeniable link between a highly educated workforce and long-term, robust economic growth,” Herbert said in his budget letter to Utahns. “In this arena, the state of Utah cannot afford to fail.”

Herbert’s budget proposal for fiscal 2014, which begins on July 1, 2013, foresees an additional $300 million in new revenues that can be rolled into the budget, plus another $121 million in one-time surplus funds — as long as Congress avoids the fiscal cliff.

He proposes to invest most of that in education.

“I recommend an additional investment of $298 million in our education system, including $96 million for enrollment growth in public education and $26 million to increase teacher compensation,” he said.

“My top budget priority is still education — education at all levels and across all institutions,” he said, adding that is consistent with his goal of ensuring that 66 percent of Utah’s adult population acquires a college degree or certificate by 2020.

Herbert especially calls for more funding in science and technology — and highlighted that by scheduling a late-morning press conference to discuss his budget at the Granite Technical Institute, run by the Granite School District to provide more in-depth STEM education and help high school students earn college credit.

Among the governor’s proposals are spending $29.8 million to increase funding for state colleges to increase production of STEM-related degrees and certificates; $5 million to increase the focus on STEM in grades 4 to 8; and $4.5 million to develop an educational resource center to promote STEM in all educational institutions.

The promotion of STEM-related education comes after Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has contended that the state is wasting billions of dollars conferring “degrees to nowhere” on college students because higher education is badly misaligned with the workforce.

Stephenson has said too few are graduating in scientific and technical fields, and that high-paying and important jobs in those fields are going unfilled as a result.

The overall recommended budget — including federal funds — is $12.8 billion, up from the $12.5 budget approved earlier this year.

Herbert’s total recommended general and education fund budget from state revenue is $5.4 billion. Major categories include $2.6 billion (49 percent) for public elementary and secondary education; $854.7 million (15.7 percent) for Medicaid and other social services; $812.1 million (14.9 percent) for higher education; and $416 million (7.7 percent) for corrections and public safety.

Herbert said that will include funding for a general salary increase for all state employees, money to help keep state parks open, funding to keep state liquor stores open, and money for improved safeguarding of confidential information in state computer systems.

Some other highlights of the budget include:

Other education areas •$13.2 million to fund computer adaptive testing tools for public education; $3.9 million more to meet the educational needs of at-risk children; $5 million more to fund public education classroom supplies; $6.5 million to expand the University of Utah Medical School by 20 openings; and $11 million to increase funding for mission and equity at higher-education institutions.

Social services • Transfer ongoing saving from reduced Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program to cover mandatory Affordable Care Act expansion costs of $22 million; Transfer $44.7 million of one-time savings from Medicaid and CHIP for other one-time needs including $35.6 million for new unified lab facilities; $5.5 million more to serve the disabled; and $1 million for homeless programs.

Public safety • $34.1 million to increase capacity at the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison; $7.4 million more for inmate medical and substance abuse programs; $3.7 million more for additional county jail contracting to manage prison capacity; $3.4 million more for Highway Patrol trooper overtime and systems upgrades; $2 million for a youth probation camp and receiving centers.

Bonding •$52.4 million for building and infrastructure needs at the Utah State Developmental Center, Utah Valley University and Dixie State College.

ldavidson@sltrib.com