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Schools Celebrate Money For Growth

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Children singing at Taylorsville Elementary

By Jenny Brundin

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kuer/local-kuer-960563.mp3

Salt Lake City, UT –

For the first time in three years, money is on its way to Utah schools for enrollment growth. KUER's Jenny Brundin reports.

AMBIENCE OF SINGING .FADE UNDER

Five hundred Taylorsville Elementary children sat in straight rows and bright yellow school shirts, as they sang a song about the joys of reading, a take-off of a Black Eyed Peas song. Governor Gary Herbert beamed. It was a day to celebrate. He was about to sign into a law a bill that covers the costs of the 14,700 new students entering Utah schools next fall. That's the largest jump in 25 years. Herbert offered this analogy for the children.

HERBERT: That's like putting 27 new Taylorsville Elementary schools into our public education system

Schools have been grappling with absorbing thousands of new students with no funds to hire more teachers. And for the past two years, the budget for schools has declined about $200 million - a time when nearly 25,000 new students flowed into Utah classrooms.

HERBERT: It's been hard for our teachers and educators to take on that kind of growth that we've had the last couple of years. They've had to be very innovative, they've had to be creative, and they've had to figure ways to do more with even less money than they've had in previous years.

The new money means Principal Michelle Love-Day can hire a new teacher. She says her school's two sixth grade classes are in rooms meant for 22 students. The new money, she says, is crucial.

LOVE-DAY: Right now 6th grade is at 32 to 33 students. If we were to keep them at two teachers, we would have had 37.

The money allows sixth grade class sizes to move down to 28 students. It doesn't completely solve the overcrowding. She said the school's kindergarten classrooms have 28 students. Ideally, they should have 18. And the new sixth-grade class will have to be housed in a portable, along with several others in the back of the school. But Love-Day says the new funding gives her hope.

LOVE-DAY: It made me realize that we are still a priority. For awhile you get bogged down and you feel like you are being forgotten about and not important and so when this came through, we finally remembered, they haven't forgotten about us, we aren't just here by ourselves.

The newly signed bill also brings money to allow schools to continue optional extended-day kindergarten, early grades reading improvement and money for libraries. Utah remains last in the nation for per pupil spending, with the boom in student growth showing no signs of slowing. Herbert meanwhile, focused on the positive. He told the children to stay in school, study hard and develop skills they can market.

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