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Legislature approves state budgets, bulk of new funding reserved for education

First Published      Last Updated Mar 09 2017 04:47 pm

Utah lawmakers gave their final votes to a series of budget bills on Tuesday, securing funding for public services like education, healthcare and law enforcement.

The bulk of new state revenues were awarded to public education, with lawmakers approving a 4 percent bump in per-student spending — at a cost of roughly $120 million — and $68 million to mitigate the effects of enrollment growth.

State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson said the budget addresses most of the state school board's funding priorities.

"We feel good about the direction that the legislative session has taken this year," she said. "It's been very collaborative and transparent."




In a first this year, lawmakers approved a $2.6 million budget item that will cover the cost of educators' licenses, currently paid by individual teachers.

"It seems counterproductive to have teachers pay to work," said Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan.

The 4 percent bump in per-student spending matches the recommendations made by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert. School districts say a minimum increase of 2.5 percent was needed to address growth in health care and retirement costs, with funding beyond those costs allowing for teacher salary increases and investment in educational programs.

Herbert said Tuesday he was encouraged by the Legislature prioritization of education funding.

"Nearly $230 million of new money is going to public education this year," Herbert said. "It will help us to increase teacher salaries in particular, but [also] giving more to local school districts to then decide what they need in their own backyards as opposed to trying to micromanage."

In addition to education, the new budget includes a 2 percent pay raise for state employees and an additional 1 percent for corrections officers through a new career ladder program.

The budget includes Medicaid funding for the poor and disabled, and will pay for several pricey building projects for college campuses around the state. Those projects include a $14 million renovation of the Weber State University Social Science Building, $8 million for the Dixie State University Human Performance Center and $5 million for rehabilitation at the University of Utah Medical Education & Discovery/Rehabilitation Hospital.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said the final additions to the budget will be addressed on Thursday in the so-called "bill of bills."

"The last thing to do is a clean-up bill on the last night for the budget," he said. "Otherwise, we're moving ahead."

bwood@sltrib.com

Twitter: @bjaminwood

 

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