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Education Programs Cut Last Year Because Of The Pandemic Have A Good Chance Of Coming Back

An illustration of a stack of books on a scale balancing with a pile of cash.
Feodora Chiosea
Education advocates are hoping Utah will reinstate many education programs that were cut last year due to the financial impacts of the pandemic.

Utah’s public education has already seen what many have called a historic increase in its budget. Per student funding rose by 6% over last year and schools will continue to receive ongoing, yearly increases to match student enrollment growth and inflation.

But recent tax collection estimates also revealed lawmakers have even more money to work with, including an additional $315 million in education funding. That means many school programs that were cut during the 2020 Legislative session stand a good change of being reinstated.

Earlier this month, the education appropriations subcommittee compiled a list of them, many of which provide targeted support to specific subject areas or groups of students. They include things like optional enhanced kindergarten and one that incorporates art into core curriculum.

One of the most sought after programs to bring back is the Math and Science Opportunities for Students and Teachers (MOST). It was launched in 2008 and reimburses districts that provide additional resources for math and science, such as after school tutoring or advanced placement courses they couldn’t otherwise offer.

“There's not a lot of silver bullets out there in terms of how we improve student learning, improve test scores,” said Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, in a House committee hearing Thursday. “Well, this is one where it puts students in front of teachers for a longer period of time on a very important topic of mathematics.”

Eliason said MOST is needed more than ever to help address the yet-unknown but likely significant loss of progress students have had this year due to disruptions caused by the pandemic. He said it’s also proven an effective tool in helping districts retain math and science teachers, which are often some of the most difficult positions to fill compared to other subject areas.

In the past, the program had $11 million to help schools in math and science and requests for funding have almost always been higher than what’s available, Eliason noted. But lawmakers this year are asking for just $4 million.

“Really there's enough money to fully restore [the program],” said Sara Jones, director of government relations for the Utah Education Association. “So we're hoping that we'll see some good numbers being added to some of these critical line items when the executive appropriations meets [Friday].”

The state’s draft budget is expected to be released Friday.

Jones said it seems likely with the extra revenue this year, there is a good chance every recommendation from the Education Appropriations Subcommittee could be funded, amounting to close to $80 million in total. Still, she said education advocates will have to keep fighting for them in years to come.

“We know we have a lot of needs in the state and that we're not at the funding level overall that we need to be. We can just look at our national comparisons.”

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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