Lawmakers raise funding, decrease overall class sizesHigher and public education officials didn't get everything they asked for, but they were reasonably pleased with the outcome of the 1998 Legislature.
The state's public education budget topped $2 billion, one-third of the state's total spending package and about a 4 percent increase over last year's budget.Higher education program spending increased 5 percent from fiscal year 1998, totaling $678 million. The Legislature also authorized state colleges to borrow more than $165 million for building projects. Such projects include the University of Utah's new student housing development, which will double as athlete housing for the 2002 Winter Games.
Public-education reforms took center stage, with lawmakers approving $9 million to reduce class sizes in seventh and eighth grades and authorizing the state's premiere charter schools.
The funding could reduce middle school class sizes by two students or more if concentrated in core classes. Schools will compete for funding by proposing innovative teaching strategies.
"By having legislators focus attention on legislation and policy (for middle schools) . . . we hope within the next year things can be done," said Doug Bates, coordinator of law and legislation for the state Office of Education. "This whole process has given a big boost to that movement."
Charter schools are public schools offering parents increased involvement opportunities and choice. They may offer extended school days or specialized curriculum such as arts or technology.
Eight pilot charter schools were approved as part of Schools for the 21st Century legislation, an innovation similar to Gov. Mike Lea-vitt's Centennial Schools that gives teachers financial incentives to reach education goals.
In higher education, another Leavitt initiative, the Electronic Community College, received $118,000 in startup funds. Colleges will contribute to an Internet site, advertising online course offerings.
Higher education also got the nod to seek its own building funds. A bond for the new U. housing complex, for instance, would be repaid with student rent and user fees from the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.
Despite that authority, colleges need more state support in building renovation and classroom construction to keep pace with growth. Lawmakers approved $21.5 million for Salt Lake Community College's Jordan campus, but the system needs money for more than a single annual project.
"If we're held to one project a year, we're going to end up with an I-15 situation on our nine college campuses," said Cecelia Foxley, commissioner of the Utah System of Higher Education.
Library funding was another sore spot. The U. received less than half of the $850,000 it requested.
"We have a serious problem in this state supporting our libraries. I can't think of any issue that hurts us more," U. president J. Bernard Machen said.
Since 1991, the Research I university has canceled 2,500 subscriptions due to dwindling funds. Last year, U. libraries, which subscribe to 13,000 journals, received enough funding to avoid periodical cancellations.
A turf battle between higher and public education ignited with a proposal to transform the Sevier Valley Applied Technology Center into a Snow College satellite campus.
Lawmakers approved the transfer of $3.8 million from public education to Snow College. The two education agencies were directed to work together in the transition.
Some of the session's drama was over proposals that didn't materialize.
Graduate students were spared a 30 percent tuition increase, although the parity of undergraduate and graduate tuition will be studied over the summer.
Whether professors are pulling their weight was expected to be a high profile issue, but lawmakers apparently were pacified with the system's progress in implementing ways to calculate faculty workload.
The issue of public education vouchers surfaced a second consecutive year, but lawmakers saved the debate for another day.
Some education officials were dismayed that a bill aimed at cutting truancy and daytime crime was set aside for study. The bill would have fined the parents of habitually truant students.