SALT LAKE CITY — Teachers would receive raises next year and schools would get more money to pay for the thousands of new students entering Utah's education system if Gov. Gary Herbert has his way.
Herbert unveiled recommendations Monday for the budget year beginning July 1, 2012, signaling to state lawmakers he wants public education to receive priority when it comes time to divvying up state dollars.
"The link between education and economic development is clear, and Utah will never fully recognize its economic potential without a highly educated workforce," Herbert wrote in his budget cover letter.
The state Legislature will tackle the allocation of billions of dollars in the coming months, including how it will spend an anticipated $128 million surplus from the current budget year that ends June 30, 2012, plus nearly $280 million in the upcoming budget year, much of it from increased income tax and sales tax collections.
Herbert would like to see $134 million more spent on public and higher education. His recommendations include an estimated 1 percent wage increase for teachers that would equal $21.5 million total.
Because local boards of education negotiate teacher salaries and contracts, it would be up to them to decide how the extra state dollars would be allocated, but State Superintendent Larry Shumway said it's good to see the governor encourage spending in that area.
"I appreciate the governor's emphasis on increasing teacher salaries," he said.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said he was also supportive of the message the governor was sending.
"We need to address teacher quality," Stephenson said. "And we can't do that unless we are willing to pay teachers a competitive rate in the marketplace, and this increase helps move us in the right direction."
While public employees, including teachers, would receive raises under Herbert's plan, higher education employees would not. Herbert said he needed to prioritize spending, and resources were finite.
"There's only so much money," Herbert said.
The state's Board of Regents upset some conservative lawmakers earlier this year when it approved pay increases for the state's college and university presidents. That approval was later rescinded after the governor asked them to hold off on a raise decision until a state salary study was completed.
Herbert's higher education spending requests include:
• $3 million for higher education growth
• $6.5 million for 20 new medical student slots at the University of Utah Medical School
• $9.3 million for the Utah College of Applied Technology to be allocated based on student retention and completion rates.
Stephenson said he likes to see increased funding at the state's technical colleges, where many programs have long waiting lists.
"It seems that he's putting a lot of the new money in the right areas," Stephenson said.
He's particularly excited to see the governor put an emphasis on technology at the state's public schools. Herbert recommends putting $12 million toward computer adaptive testing, an assessment system used by several schools across the state that identifies concepts students understand and ones they don't. When a student answers a question correctly, the computer selects a more difficult question as follow-up; when they answer one wrong, the next question is easier.
"I think that we need to focus more on the kind of technological tools that expand a teacher's ability to scale effective education," Stephenson said. "I'm thrilled that the message is getting through and that the governor is supporting that message."
Also in the budget:
• $40.6 million to fund the estimated 12,500 students who will enter the public school system next year
• $10 million to go to early intervention programs such as extended-day kindergarten, which are designed to better prepare students for school.
• $2 million to go toward charter school start up funding. Charter schools previously received federal grants to cover some start-up expenses such as hiring directors or paying for equipment. Without those grants next year, the governor has designated state dollars to help with those expenses.
The state's Democrats rejected Herbert's budget, saying it didn't go nearly far enough in the name of education.
"There is nothing new, nothing innovative and nothing worthy of support in Herbert's proposal. This is a tired, uninspired Republican half-commitment to the children of Utah," said Jim Dabakis, Utah Democratic Party chairman, in a press release.