Percentages of dropouts in Utah's school districts and throughout the nation are inflated and confusing.

Utah Board of Education officials, at a meeting Friday in Richfield, say that's because the statistic is defined and tallied differently.Utah, along with 30 other states, is part of a pilot program designed to obtain more uniform data. Now some districts record dropouts after one month of absence, while others hold off for more than a year.

"There is confusion about it (the pilot program) and what constitutes dropouts," said Hal Robbins, school financing and business specialist with the state education office.

Deputy Superintendant Scott Bean added, "We need to compare apples to apples."

Standardized definitions are important because they will be used in a state master plan for at-risk students, attendance registers, year-end school reports and board rules and guidelines.

In addition, special-education funding claimed a high priority at Friday's board meeting.

Although spending for special-education programs in Utah's school districts is estimated to exceed $70 million for this year, figures may be inaccurate.

`For eight years we have been trying to determine what it actually costs for special education," said Les Haley, physical data and special-education specialist at the state office of education.

One of the problems is that students move from urban districts to nearby rural districts where there isn't sufficient money for the program, said board president Nedra Brown. She suggested "approach in an legislative manner" might be the answer to the problem.

Generating funds and allocations to school districts for special education is one important and unfinished area of the school finance task force study.

The board also agreed that $1 million in supplemental funding authorized by the Legislature should be spent for equipment and growth costs at the state's five applied technology centers.

Members frowned on a suggestion for seeking possible authorization to spend some of the money for other purposes such as helping to overcome a $90,000 budget deficit at the Sevier Valley center.

Supplemental fund allocations amounted to nearly $400,000 at the Ogden-Weber School, about $345,000 for the Davis center, nearly $300,000 for Bridgerland, almost $185,000 to Sevier Valley and about $140,000 to Uintah Basin.

Bean reported that the state office wants to expand the educational network program to all school districts in southwestern and south central Utah.