Lockhart said she has met with House and Senate leadership to discuss her proposal — which is expected to be unveiled by early next week — and has received "a lot of agreement" from her colleagues. She also said she looks forward to reviewing the education bills sponsored by Democratic lawmakers to see what overlap exists with her own initiative.
"We're realizing we're all talking about the same thing here, which is helping kids and modernizing the education system," Lockhart said.
One of the few proposals that would generate new tax revenue comes from Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay. The proposal seeks to increase funding for schools by eliminating the personal and dependent state income tax deductions.
Jones said Wednesday that she plans to file a substitute bill that would allow up to two deductions, which is estimated to raise $267 million for schools while costing the average family of three just less than $12 each month.
Jones' bill was initially amended to phase out the income tax deduction, but she said she decided to allow up to two deductions as a way of providing a "soft landing" for Utah's families while still raising money for schools.
"It’s the only long-term, significant funding that we’re even talking about," Jones said.
In regards to higher education, Commissioner David Buhler and the presidents of Utah Valley University, Weber State University and Snow College presented lawmakers with their budget priorities Wednesday.
In a unique initiative this year, the Utah System of Higher Education is calling for roughly $70 million in acute equity funding to establish a per-student funding floor of $4,800 at Utah's colleges and universities.
The funding floor would be largely used to address capacity at Utah's high-growth schools, Buhler said, and is notable in that the University of Utah and Utah State University have effectively agreed to forgo equity funding this year in service of the other institutions in the state.
Rep. Dana Layton, R-Orem, described the equity funding proposal as a "rare opportunity" in that all of the state's college and university presidents are united in a common goal. Requests for mission-based funding and compensation adjustments come every year, she said, but a similar agreement on a per-student funding floor may never again be on the table.
"In my mind, it’s even more important to fund that than any of the other priorities," Layton said.
Utah Valley University currently receives the least amount of funding on a per-student basis — due in part to a surge in enrollment after gaining university status — and would similarly receive the largest bump to reach the $4,800 funding floor.
UVU President Matthew Holland said those funds would be used to increase capacity, particularly in science, technology, engineering or mathematics fields, and would potentially go toward establishing a differential tuition structure to preserve the school's dual mission of being both a community college and a four-year university.
"We need these basic infusions to carry out our mission and expand to meet the demand," Holland said. "This really is absolutely essential."
He complimented his fellow presidents in working together to reach a proposal that would address some of the funding inequities that have persisted in the state.
"I do think it has been a moment of statesmanship and looking to the greater good," he said.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche
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