SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers gave early budget approval to boost per-pupil education spending by 3 percent and stop charging fees for teacher licenses.
The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee voted unanimously to pass those budget recommendations Monday, advancing a list of ongoing and one-time funding requests totaling more than $190 million.
Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, the subcommittee's co-chairman, announced those plans shortly before the group of lawmakers were scheduled to finalize the budget recommendations.
"We recognize that this is not a major pay increase. It's not many things that our teachers are deserving of or in need of, but we wanted to send something small," McCay said.
School districts have asked for a minimum increase of 2.5 percent of per-pupil spending to keep up with inflation, while Gov. Gary Herbert requested a 4 percent increase in his budget proposal.
The 3 percent increase amounts to $90 million, and the cost of funding teacher licenses would cost the state $2.6 million.
The Utah State Board of Education has been considering raising the cost of teacher licenses, but McCay said the fee waiver is meant to show support for teachers who, "despite the pay, execute with excellence."
"As a former educator myself, I remember thinking how interesting it was that I was paying my employer so that I could continue working for my employer," he said.
The appropriations subcommittee set a budget maximum of about $175 million, though they exceeded it by more than $1 million.
Requests that were funded include $2 million for regional service centers and $5 million for teacher supplies and materials.
However, a $10 million request for special education was slashed to $1.2 million; a $3 million request for a Partnerships for Student Success program was reduced to $1 million; and a $2.2 million request for the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning program was cut to $1 million.
Though the subcommittee had more than 40 requests for ongoing funding, they only funded 30. Among those that weren't funded were $1.9 million for SB61, a bill to cover costs of services for students with autism; $1.4 million for HB108, a bill to fund more teacher salary supplements; $952,000 for HB212, a bill to fund financial incentives for teachers at high-poverty schools; and $3.9 million for a digital teaching and learning program.
McCay said the 3 percent per-pupil spending increase required "sacrifice."
State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson applauded lawmakers for being "transparent and collaborative." She said the recommendations mostly match the Utah State Board of Education's priorities, except for the exemption of $1.2 million for school technology.
"There's always more requests than what we have money for," Dickson said.
While the state expects an estimated $285 million in new revenue this year, subcommittee co-chairman Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said he'd be surprised if education receives the $175 million that has been recommended.
Nonetheless, Hillyard applauded lawmakers for making the tough decisions.
"This committee has worked hard to get these figures," he said.
The subcommittee's vice chairman, Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, said the budget recommendations "reflect a commitment to doing all we can to help teachers, give them the support they need and show how important they are."
With the subcommittee's recommendations now finalized, the budget will be referred to the Executive Appropriations Committee.
The committee's Senate chairman, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, said the recommendations are not "unreasonable."
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said every year lawmakers focus on education, trying to increase the per-pupil spending "as much as possible as we balance all the other issues we're trying to fund."