Utah lawmakers touted substantial increases in state spending for public education programs in the $13.5 billion budget for the coming fiscal year passed this week.
"Education was, is and always will be our top priority," said Senate budget chairman Lyle Hillyard.
Lawmakers provided $62 million to pay to educate the 10,300 new students expected to enroll in Utah schools next year, and another $62 million to increase Utah’s last-in-the nation per-pupil spending.
"I appreciate as we prioritize those dollars, we’re funding education, which is my No. 1 priority," Herbert said. "It’s not just my priorities … but those are based on what are the people’s priorities."
Utah’s colleges and universities, particularly those like Utah Valley University and Salt Lake Community College that have seen booming enrollments, will share $50 million meant to balance out the percentage of a student’s education paid for by the state.
And tens of millions of dollars are being invested in buildings at Weber State, Utah State, and Snow College.
"The ones who made out like bandits this year was higher ed," House budget chairman Mel Brown said this week.
Budget leaders were able to shift around tens of millions of dollars to address needs in social-service programs, including putting $2 million into covering autism treatment under a lottery program, putting money into building a home for cancer patients and helping some disabled Utahns on a waiting list for services.
"I think we tightened the ship for health and human services and had some money left over," Hillyard said.
Lawmakers put more than $36 million toward expanding the state prison in Gunnison and another $5 million for contracting with county jails for bed space for state inmates. The funding should help avoid having to release prisoners, which might have been necessary otherwise.
The Legislature also addressed a looming shortfall in the crime-victims reparation fund, which provides services like medical exams, processing of rape kits and anti-HIV medications for rape victims.
Legislators also put hundreds of thousands of dollars into pet projects and local programs like various theaters, museums and festivals.
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