Public education could become the latest victim of a legislative session marked by little money and tough choices.
But lawmakers say it could be worse, with education so far being spared the kinds of cuts other areas might face.
The Senate Republican Caucus has decided to recommend a $21 million, or roughly 1 percent cut, to public education for next school year. The money could be used to fund programs outside of education that lawmakers deem as more worthy.
"Our caucus gave us a direction to see if we could find $21 million in public education," said Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, co-chairman of the Legislature's main budget committee. "We're trying to find money in the education budget that won't take from the classroom experience, but it's very difficult."
Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, declined Wednesday to release a list of exactly which education programs might be affected, saying he wanted to give House lawmakers a chance to look at it first.
The House Republican caucus had previously voted to recommend a plan that would give education the same amount of money next school year as this year. But even that plan would result in less per pupil spending because it would not give schools money for the 11,000 new students expected in Utah schools next school year.
House Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara, said lawmakers have always tried to protect public education, but he believes "everybody is going to have to have a haircut in this process."
The governor recommended months ago that schools receive the same amount of money next year as they got this year without funding for the 11,000 new students.
"We worry about whether or not the governor will veto this, frankly," Jenkins said.
Some Democrats and education leaders aren't showing much support for the cuts.
"I think we're doing everything we can to keep public education whole," said Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, the Senate minority leader, "but we're also worried about higher education."
Several education leaders said the 1 percent cut would feel like more if lawmakers also don't fund the 11,000 new students.
"It's just very difficult," said Tamara Lowe with the Utah School Boards Association. "One percent would be a killer."
Susan Kuziak, with the Utah Education Association, said she doesn't think all options for finding extra money for education have yet been exhausted.
"They don't have to empty every penny in the cash drawer, but they have a lot of options before they go to that," she said.
Todd Hauber, state associate superintendent, said the impact of a 1 percent cut on education will depend on where it comes from.
"We're getting down to that point where there's not much more to cut besides teachers and classrooms," Hauber said.