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Gov. Cox wants to make it ‘the year of the teacher’ with a $6K compensation increase

Gov. Spencer Cox announces the education funding and tax cuts in his proposed budget for the 2024 fiscal year while standing in front of teachers at Centennial Jr. High School in Kaysville, Utah, Dec. 8, 2022.
Martha Harris
Gov. Spencer Cox announces the education funding and tax cuts in his proposed budget for the 2024 fiscal year while standing in front of teachers at Centennial Jr. High School in Kaysville, Utah, Dec. 8, 2022.

Utah Gov. Spencer stood in front of a group of educators at Centennial Jr. High School in Kaysville on Thursday and said it would be “the year of the teacher.” He’s backing that declaration with more than $1.5 billion in recommendations to boost state education funding.

“I’m only going to talk about two things today because I don’t want these two things to get lost in the budget,” Cox said. “They’re that important to me. I think they’re that important to the people who live in our state, who call Utah home.”

In addition to turbocharging education in his budget, the governor’s second announcement was a proposal for $1.3 billion in tax relief. The full budget proposal will be released Friday afternoon, Dec. 9.

“Teachers pay taxes, too. And we want to make sure that you feel that relief,” he told the assembled workers from the Davis School District.

The state’s budget is ultimately decided by the Utah Legislature. Lawmakers will approve the new budget during the upcoming legislative session that starts in January.

Part of Cox's proposed budget includes a bump in teacher salaries by about $4,600 and benefits by about $1,400. If passed, that increase would start before the end of the current school year.

“I’m excited about the raise,” said Centennial Jr. High math teacher Stephanie Hansen. “But I’m also really excited [about] how they’re focusing more on education and trying to make education better for all students.”

Also included is increased funding for students at risk of academic failure. The governor is recommending increased state funding for online schools to help smaller ones offer more courses.

“We recognize that our students need additional support, too. And students in smaller schools often have fewer opportunities and educators due to smaller scale of operations,” Cox said.

Another inclusion is an increase to the weighted pupil unit by 5%. This is the base amount of funding the state gives districts and charter schools for every student enrolled. Compared to other states, Utah has consistently ranked low in per-student spending.

Cox’s education proposal is rounded out with $40.8 million on optional full-day kindergarten, $175 million in one-time funding for infrastructure needs, which could include safety upgrades, and $20 million to put more teen centers in Utah schools.

In addition to more funding for education, Hansen said it was also nice to hear the governor say that teachers need to be appreciated more and need to be treated with kindness.

“Everyday I see my friends, we graduated together, I see the amazing things they’re accomplishing and we could not have done it without our teachers,” Cox told the crowd. “If we want that to continue, if we want Utah to be the best place to live in the future, we have to get this right and we can’t do it without our teachers.”

In a statement, Utah Education Association President Renée Pinkney applauded the governor “for making teacher salaries a top priority in his proposed budget.”

“The UEA’s vision is a safe equitable school for every child,” Pinkey continued. “This starts with a highly qualified educator paid a professional salary. In addition, we must solve the larger school staff and labor shortage.”

In terms of the governor’s desire for tax relief, one component is a reduction in the state income tax from 4.85% to 4.75%, a cut in the tax on social security payments and a one-time property tax relief. He also wants to create a new exemption.

“If we truly value life and believe that life starts before birth, we should give a tax exemption for pregnant women as well, so that that child that they are carrying gets a tax exemption,” Cox said.

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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