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Utah lawmakers start work on schools budget

Published January 31, 2013 12:47 pm

Education • Funding for enrollment growth, other initiatives awaits federal fiscal cliff deal.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Senate passed a preliminary education budget on Thursday, with lawmakers saying they plan to build upon it in coming weeks to create a final budget for Utah schools.

The $3.7 billion budget bill, SB1, is meant as a starting point to ensure schools get most of the money they need in case lawmakers can't agree on a budget later or the governor vetoes the final budget. The initial budget, of which about $2.5 billion comes from the state's education fund, does not include cash to fund growing enrollment or money spent this year on certain programs.

Bill sponsor Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said lawmakers will decide how much to add for enrollment growth, programs and other items in coming weeks.

Stephenson said that final budget, however, could be affected by whether Congress and the president are able to reach agreement on spending, avoiding a fall off a fiscal cliff. Discussions were delayed in January and the new deadline is in early March.

If the feds can't agree by then, automatic federal spending cuts will kick in across the country — and in Utah schools.

"I expect that we will, at minimum, fund growth," Stephenson told state school board members Thursday, "but other than that, if we don't have some signals from the federal government, I'm not sure what kind of expansion we can have."

The state school board is requesting, among other things, that lawmakers fully fund enrollment growth at a cost of $75 million to $100 million, increase per pupil spending and fund other programs, such as the ACT for all students, dual language immersion and restoration of money to serve at-risk students.

The Education Appropriations Committee, co-chaired by Stephenson, is now meeting twice a week to consider those and other proposals. That committee will ultimately come up with recommendations for the final education budget, which will have to be approved by both houses of the Legislature and the governor. The House will likely hear SB1 on Friday.