5% boost in per-pupil spending isn’t enough, teachers union tells Gov. Cox

The Utah Education Association says the governor’s per-pupil funding proposal will “leave critical student needs unaddressed.”

Gov. Spencer Cox wants to boost funding for Utah’s rural schools and allocate millions of dollars to local initiatives for improved student outcomes as part of his proposed public education spending plan for fiscal 2025.

On Tuesday, the governor unveiled the largest proposed budget in state history — $29.5 billion he wants the state to spend on efforts like expanding child care access, tackling homelessness and building more affordable housing.

Cox is proposing nearly $855 million in new appropriations for public education, representing a more than 16% increase over this year’s public education budget if lawmakers embrace the governor’s plan. Legislators will begin crafting the final budget when the 2024 session begins next month.

The governor recommends a 5% increase in per-pupil funding, also called a weighted pupil unit, but the state’s largest teachers union, the Utah Education Association, says it isn’t enough.

“We cannot overlook the significant shortfall in the proposed 5% increase in the weighted pupil unit (WPU),” union President Renée Pinkney said in a statement. “The proposal falls far below the UEA’s requested 12%, which will leave critical student needs unaddressed.”

Each year, lawmakers are required to increase school funding to cover inflation. Most of Cox’s proposed 5% boost — 3.8% — is mandatory to cover those inflationary costs. The discretionary portion, just over $50 million, makes up the remaining 1.2%.

Rural students

Cox is also recommending an additional $34 million to increase per-pupil funding for rural students, as well as $55 million in one-time funding to build new schools in rural areas.

“Rural school districts incur higher per-student costs than those in urban areas,” said Max Gruber, a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget.

Rural students make up about 20% of Utah’s school-aged children, according to the budget proposal. Gruber said it is more expensive to educate them because urban schools “benefit from economies of scale.”

The program that currently provides additional assistance to rural schools isn’t fully meeting student needs, Gruber said.

Student outcomes

Cox‘s proposal also emphasizes improving student outcomes by calling for the creation of a one-time $200 million “Innovation Grant Fund.” Local school boards would be able to request money from the account to expand effective initiatives, Gruber said. Details of the program have not yet been disclosed.


In the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers tacked on a bump in teacher pay to legislation for private school vouchers. This year’s budget proposal does not include another raise, but it does continue funding preparation hours for teachers.

A law passed in 2022 authorized paying out 32 hours of preparation time to educators at the state’s average teacher pay rate. The program was funded on a one-time basis at the time but would get a $90 million infusion under the governor’s plan.

Cox is also hoping to address the state’s teacher shortage by creating a $12 million pilot program to pay student teachers, according to the proposal. The initiative is not slated to receive ongoing funding.

Other education highlights from Cox’s budget proposal include:

• $1 million set aside in anticipation of having to legally defend the state’s new social media regulations aimed at protecting minors.

• $250,000 in ongoing funding for the Department of Public Safety to hire specialists who will help schools implement new safety standards.

• A one-time allocation of $250,000 for collaboration between Utah residents and education leaders to develop an updated vision for public education.

• $168.4 million of increased funding to the Utah System of Higher Education.

• An ongoing investment of $7 million to broaden access to certificate and degree programs, specifically to create more opportunities for Utah residents in life sciences industries.

• Continued funding of $6.7 million to expand technical education, along with an additional ongoing investment of $2 million to increase apprenticeship opportunities.

Clarification  Dec. 7, 12:50 p.m.: This story has been updated to clarify Max Gruber’s title. Gruber is a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget.