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Utah Lawmakers Advance Bill Package To Change Education Funding

Photo of Utah Capitol.
Austen Diamond for KUER

The Utah legislature wants to expand what the state can spend money earmarked for education on to include programs that support children and people with disabilities. But it will take a constitutional amendment to do so.

That legislation, S.J.R. 9, says education funding could be spent to “support children and to support individuals with a disability.” If passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, it would still need to be approved by voters in November. 

The other piece of legislation, H.B. 357, which would only go into effect if the constitutional amendment does, creates a reserve account, and expands what schools can spend local property taxes on. It does not need to be approved by voters in the fall.

On Friday, the House passed H.B. 357 and S.J.R. 9 got approval from the Senate.

“I can't think of a time when I've had the opportunity to cast a vote that will fundamentally change forever in this state in a positive way, how we take care of the next generation,” House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said. 

In the Senate, Assistant Majority Whip Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, said the state has made funding public education a priority.

“At the same time, we have responsibilities to be able to support our children,” she said. “It's about the whole child. If a child's not healthy, it's going to be difficult for that child to learn.”

The legislation has support from a wide range of parties including the Utah State Board of Education and the Utah Association of School Business Officials. 

But the state’s largest teacher union, the Utah Education Association isn’t on board. UEA has said the legislature should take more time to consider a “generational” change in funding rather than pass the legislation in the final stretch of the general session. 

House Minority Leader Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, echoed those concerns on the House floor Friday. 

“I just found out about this proposal literally three days ago,” King said. “It's hard for me to vote in favor of a proposal that has the potential of taking over a half billion dollars out of the Education Fund and making it available for other funding needs without having more time to look at this.”

Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, voted for the amendment that would allow education money to be spent supporting children and people with disabilities, but said he wanted more specifics on what programs would be included. 

“We may need to have better definitions other than just two words, because I think that would become a real crucial issue,” Hillyard said. “This late in the session without more dialogue and discussion on that, I think we're opening up some questions that may jeopardize this from ever passing.”

If it makes it to the ballot, voters would need to ratify it with more than 50%.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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