Utah's education community supports neither tax increases nor tax reductions. It hopes to retain its present share of state revenues and also seeks an increase in basic funding for schoolchildren, with a guarantee that the funding won't fluctuate if there is a shift in the state's economy.
The Utah Education Coordinating Council, which represents most organizations with an interest in education, presented its legislative positions Friday at a news conference in the State Office of Education.Borrowing a quote from newly installed President Bush, the council's legislative chairman, Winston Gleave, said, "A new breeze is blowing - one that shows unity and oneness of purpose." For all the diverse interests in education to unite in support of legislative goals shows the same commitment to a common end - the good of Utah's children."
James R. Moss, state superintendent for public instruction, issued a four-point education statement.
"We want to make it clear we are not asking for a tax increase. And we think Utah has a good mix of property, income, sales and other taxes."
Tax rebates should be forgone, Moss said, until Utah's critical education needs are met. "Polls indicate people prefer the use of surpluses to improve services," Moss said.
The national consumer price index has increased by 13 percent in three years, while the weighted pupil unit, the state's per-child commitment to education, has been held at the same level, said Lowell Baum, Utah Education Association executive and council spokesman.
Gov. Norm Bangerter has suggested a 3 percent increase in the WPU, but educators would be happier if the figure were closer to a one-year increase in the CPI, approximately 4.1 percent.
The ECC suggests that the Legislature consider retaining a 2-mill shift instituted two years ago and make it a permanent part of a district's maintenance and operations budget. The 2 mills were shifted from capital outlay to maintenance and operations. The program has generated considerable controversy, however, because the $18 million generated by the mills has been put into a common pot and distributed to districts based on the equalization formula. About half the state's districts gained in the shift and half lost.
The educators also will request that the Legislature allow districts to keep the savings they have realized through an early retirement program undertaken two years ago. The state has taken 80 percent of the savings, which amount to approximately $14 million. Districts want to use the money to pay for teacher lane changes and salary increments.
*****> Coordinating Council's legislative goals
- No new taxes and no reduction in present taxes, except increase in circuit-breaker provisions.
- Use of state surpluses to meet education needs.
- Maintenance of education's present share of the budget, regardless of revenue fluctuation, using state surpluses to make up education shortfalls.
- Commitment over time to increase Utah's per-pupil expenditure to national averages.
- Funding for 4,849 new students.
- Increase in the state's basic education support to offset 22 percent increases in health insurance and inflation.
- Adequate funding for educational reform, with increases for technology, assessment and programs for students at risk.
- Maintenance of funding for career ladder programs.
- Retirement equity for teachers to close the gap with other state employees and give long-term employees the same 2 percent-per-year funding credits granted new employees.