Teachers would get another $2,500 raise next school year, and school districts would enjoy another 3 percent per-student funding hike under a wish list the public schools' budget committee forwarded Tuesday night.
The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee addressed the pay question as members took final votes on their spending package forwarded to the Executive Appropriations Committee for final prioritization. The package reflects another year of large surpluses for the state, but also a growing skepticism about whether the surplus will be as large as legislators originally expected.
The committee officially voted to prioritize $92.2 million directly to teacher salaries, an amount reported to fund another $2,500 raise for every educator. The next priority is the 3 percent hike in the weighted pupil unit (WPU), which is the state's basic per-student funding formula, totaling about $76.5 million.
While the pay raise would be identical to last year's, the proposed WPU increase is smaller. Last year's unprecedented budget for Utah public schools, in the neighborhood of $3 billion, included a 4 percent WPU increase.
Also, the recommendation is a far cry from the governor's requested 7 percent WPU hike and the 10 percent increase the State Board of Education wanted.
Still, the subcommittee noted its package equals about a 6.5 percent WPU increase.
Boosting the WPU has become more expensive about $25.5 million per 1 percent because of the past increases, said Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan.
The subcommittee was the only one that met Tuesday evening. It was called after Hillyard, Executive Appropriations Committee co-chairman, raised concerns as to whether the committee members' prioritizations were properly accounted. The group also had been silent on teacher compensation.
"This turned out to be much, much better," Hillyard said.
Priorities include $5 million of ongoing money for a bill to put educational software in the homes of 4-year-olds something subcommittee chairman and bill sponso Rep. Brad Last, R-St. George, called a cheaper alternative to publicly funded preschool. The panel, however, halved the price tag in case money gets tight.
The same thing happened to some one-time money priorities, including a $50 million request for educational technology, which was cut to $30 million instead.
Still, the group had no firm numbers to base decisions on, as estimates on how much new money is on the table won't be out until Monday. And several legislators' forecasts appear to inject a few clouds on last year's sunny budget year.
"There will be less money to spend than we anticipated when we started," Hillyard said. That could be tough to handle, especially considering expectations about more money have been rising.
Still, this won't be a bad budget year, said Executive Appropriations Committee co-chairman Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley. Maybe instead of being the second-biggest revenue increase in state history, it could be the third.Hillyard characterized it like this: "A time of plenty, but not plenty enough."