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School board supports bill targeting poverty through after-school education

Published: Thursday, Jan. 9 2014 5:42 p.m. MST

"We need to unify behind this issue, and that’s the issue of early education for our most at-risk students in the state," Osmond said.

In last year's version of the bill, Osmond called for the creation of public-private funding partnerships where private investors would loan money to the state for preschool expansion with the understanding that they would be repaid with interest if the interventions proved successful.

Osmond said Thursday he did a poor job managing the politics of the bill, which ultimately failed to clear the Senate.

"I did not anticipate the reaction that we had from both inside and outside the Legislature," he said.

The year, Osmond said he is proposing a simplified bill that calls for a direct funding request of $6 million from the Education Fund in place of a private loan structure.

But while investment in early education is a priority of the State School Board, several members expressed concern that the funding for Osmond's bill would ultimately draw money away from the amount of per-pupil funding schools receive.

Board member Leslie Castle asked if there is any other way to fund the preschool services, saying pulling from the Education Fund would undermine years of work to increase the level of per-pupil funding.

"It makes a statement that I think is really disheartening to me," Castle said.

Osmond said it is not his intention to threaten per-pupil funding, but that targeted early childhood interventions are critical to improving the performance of at-risk students.

"I don’t know where else to pull it from," he said. "At the end of the day, this is an incremental revenue (request), and it's an education program."

Osmond also presented a bill aimed at addressing the disparity between school district property tax revenue, a frequent talking point among lawmakers that has been the focus of several bills, including one sponsored by Osmond last year that failed to reach the House.

Under current law, property value increases are met with coinciding decreases in tax rates to maintain revenue neutrality. But Osmond's bill would freeze the basic tax rates, allowing schools to collect additional funds that result from an increase in property values.

Those funds would be distributed through school land trust accounts, he said, under the discretion of school community councils and local administrators.

"Any increase becomes new money," Osmond said. "Now it's actually new money that would be brought into the system."

Osmond said the bill he sponsored last year — pejoratively dubbed a "Robin Hood" bill for potentially moving money from affluent districts to cash-strapped areas of the state — gained "zero support" from school districts and a divided response from lawmakers.

But he expressed confidence that the changes he has made could generate support, as well as added resources for schools.

"It’s not increasing the tax rate, but it is increasing new revenue," Osmond said. "It is, I believe, a bill that many of my colleagues will support."

As of Thursday, roughly 65 bills or bill requests had been filed for the 2014 Legislature on the subject of education.

Among those bills are three that would alter the way State School Board members are elected, revisions to suicide prevention statutes, a resolution recognizing the 100th anniversary of Davis High School and two bills dealing with religious freedom in the classroom.

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com, Twitter: bjaminwood

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