SALT LAKE CITY — A bill intended to help equalize public school funding "does not create any winners and (any) losers," according to its sponsor, was endorsed Monday by the Senate Education Committee.
SB145, sponsored by Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, would set aside $36 million from the state’s education fund to increase the statewide minimum funding level for school districts, adding funding each year.
"Over time, every district can count themselves a winner under the Minimum School Program," Fillmore said.
SB145 would also expand the definition of at-risk students to include those experiencing homelessness.
"It puts $15 million into the at-risk enhancement. It changes the definition of at-risk so we include more factors. It puts $1.5 million in the Necessarily Existent Small Schools program. It puts $25 million over five years into the state transportation reimbursement and it puts $36 million to increase the state's matching funds to those school districts that are unable to create that sort of revenue through their own local tax," Fillmore said.
The Legislature is responsible for this problem because it created it when school district boundaries were drawn a century ago, he said.
In those days, Utah was largely agrarian, "and it really didn’t matter where in the state you lived as far as your property was worth. Now it matters quite a bit," Fillmore said.
The Park City School District boundaries include ski resorts while others are largely comprised of federal lands, which don't contribute to local tax coffers.
"We’ve got school districts with missile training grounds, whatever good those are worth. They don’t generate a lot of property tax revenue to a local school district, right?" Fillmore said.9 comments on this story
School districts with lower yielding tax bases have great difficulty competing for teachers because it is "artificially holding down teacher salaries by affecting who has buying power in the labor market when it comes to teachers. I think that’s something that needs to change for the sake of our teachers and our kids," Fillmore said.
No one from the public spoke on the bill, which passed on a vote of 6-0.
House Appropriations co-Chairman Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, is also running an equalization bill that would generate new money for equalization by freezing statewide property tax rates.
The fiscal note for HB293 projects local property tax revenue to the Minimum School Program could grow up to $125.6 million by FY 2022.
The bill is currently before the House Rules Committee.