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Democrats Say Education Budget OK, Could be Better

Democratic State Lawmakers say they’re pleased the legislature passed a budget that fully funded growth in enrollment and boosted per-pupil spending but Utah residents are ready to invest more in public schools.

The final budget provides additional funding for roughly 13,000 new students and increases per pupil spending by 2 percent; enough to help school districts pay for the increased cost of employee benefits, but not enough for teacher pay raises. Lawmakers also appropriated ongoing money for extended-day kindergarten and dual language programs.

Democrats say while they’re top funding priorities were addressed they were hoping to grow the pot with several tax initiatives that increased funding for education.

“We think the public is ready to put greater investments in public schools," Briscoe said.

Representative Joel Briscoe lamented efforts to restore two and a half professional development days for teachers, a $21 million request that was denied.

“Teachers have received next to no support for implementing the common core curriculum,"Briscoe said."The two and a half days the democrats asked to be funded in the budget would have provided teachers and schools time to implement the biggest change in curriculum teachers haven’t been asked to do in a long time.“

But Executive Appropriations Committee Chair Senator Lyle Hillyard said the legislature spent every dime it could on public education.

“It’s not that we’re sitting here on a pile of money and refuse to spend it," Hillyard said.

Hillyard added if the legislature is going to raise taxes, it needs to see better results in the classroom.

“That’s why a lot of the legislators are pushing for innovation, computer testing programs, which the public education system is adopting but not very readily," Hillyard said.

In total the State Legislature added about $160 million dollars to the three-plus billion dollar public education budget

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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