Protecting the proposed 5 percent increase in the weighted pupil unit - Utah's per-child education formula - is the top priority of the Utah Public Education Coalition.
The coalition sent a message to legislators Thursday listing the items its members want given prime consideration as budgets are trimmed to match revenues.The 5 percent addition to the WPU would cover additional retirement costs, cover normal teacher increases and give them a small raise overall. Some budget proposals being considered by legislators would chop 1 percent off the WPU to balance the budget. That would mean programs would have to be cut.
The other three items targeted by the coalition as priority concerns were a $4.8 million appropriation to reduce class loads in first grade; $7 million for growth in the public education system; and $15 million to continue a technology program begun last year.
The coalition represents the PTA, Utah Education Association, Utah School Boards Association, Utah School Superintendents Association and the State Office of Education.
The joint statement Thursday was an effort to show that "teachers are not alone in this," said Lily Eskelsen, UEA president. As the Legislature has gone into its final days and funding for education appears to be dwindling, there has been some conjecture that the teacher union might act to impress its needs on legislators.
Eskelsen said the organization is "keeping all its options open. A strike is a declaration of war, and we aren't ready to go to that point yet." She said UEA leadership is keeping a finger on the pulse of its membership and will determine actions as the budgeting process goes into the final days.
"Public education will get as large a share of the money as it did last year," said State Superintendent Jay B. Taggart, even if there is not enough money to significantly increase education budgets.
The school technology program will begin to suffer if funding is cut back, said PTA President Pat Hales. "We can't lose any more."
The governor's budget proposes to cut this year's technology funding to $10 million - a $5 million decrease from last year. Private contributions to the fund also have been significantly less than anticipated. School districts that were asked to plan based on expectations of more money will have to scale back their technology plans or expect to take longer to implement them if the money declines.
Representatives of the coalition expressed frustration with the way the Utah Legislature budgets.
Starting the budgeting procedure with dated revenue projections only to find the estimates are soft "is bizarre," Eskelsen said.