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Funding Boost For Poor School Districts Moves Ahead, But Teachers Urge Caution

Austen Diamond / KUER

Local funding for school districts is based on property taxes, but Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, worries that system is outdated.

“Based on those boundaries that were drawn 100 years ago, we’ve got school districts with ski resorts and school districts without them,” Fillmore said.  “We’ve got school districts with missile training grounds, and whatever good those are worth, they don’t generate a lot of property tax revenue to a local school district.”

Fillmore’s bill, which passed unanimously out of a Senate committee Monday, would set aside $36 million for poor, mostly rural school districts, to give them a boost. That money would come out of the state’s education fund, which is paid for by income taxes.

The Utah Education Association, Utah’s largest teachers’ union, says it supports the idea, but President Heidi Matthews said taking state money to give to some school districts is the wrong solution. She referred to school funding in Utah as a pie.

“Right now, it’s a pie that’s not big enough,” Matthews said. “Simply dividing up the pie in a different way is not going to solve our problems of adequately funding public education in Utah.”

UEA is instead supporting a bill sponsored by Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, that would freeze property tax rates statewide, but the bill hasn’t yet been sent to a committee.

The union also supports a potential ballot initiative to slightly raise sales and income taxes to funnel more money into public education. 

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