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Election 2008: Amendment would allow investing of school funds

Published: Friday, July 31 2015 1:29 a.m. MDT

Amid an economic downturn, state and education officials believe $1 billion in state funds will be safe in the stock market, even providing beneficial returns solely used to operate Utah's schools.
On Nov. 4, voters will be asked to make a decision on whether money from the State School Fund and land-grant use should be invested in private equities. The latest trends show major dips in publicly traded businesses, but private companies have stayed fairly stable, according to Utah State Treasurer Edward Alter.
"Amendment E is the final nut to crack," Alter told the Deseret News Monday. The amendment, included on the ballot, changes constitutional language that prohibits the manager of the State School Fund from investing in private equities.
"The purpose is to get a broad and complete asset allocation that looks like a trust fund-like or endowment-like fund," Alter said. He said that although the investment opportunities are more risky, they call for a smaller amount of money and can produce large returns.
"It's a good time to be investing in equities if you have the cash to invest," he said, adding that the investments would be intended for long-term.
Years ago, voters allowed a change to how colleges and universities invest endowment funds. Alter only wants the same privilege for money used in elementary and secondary schools throughout the state.
"We don't want to lose out on the opportunity to get in on the market while it's down," said Margaret Bird, a school trust-lands specialist with the Utah Office of Education. "The more we have to invest, the more we have to operate our schools."
PTA's Trust Lands Commissioner Natalie Gordon wants voters to rest assured that money from the fund is "already in and is staying in." Managers of the fund are held to the Prudent Investor Standard, and although she said they are very prudent, the money could be providing more for Utah's school-aged children.
Last year, the fund yielded $30 million — 1 percent of the total cost of education — given directly to Utah schools for discretionary educational use.
"It has made a difference," Gordon said. "But we can make a bigger difference."
Amendment E began as a joint resolution that the Legislature approved earlier this year, but is required to be voted on in the upcoming election.
"We're all worried, but there is an incredible financial and spiritual resiliency in this country," Alter said. Because he is not running for re-election, Alter's term as treasurer ends early next year.


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com

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