SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House of Representatives unanimously approved SB2 Tuesday, the state budget for public education for the upcoming year.
The budget contemplates spending more than $36 million for enrollment growth. Utah's public school enrollment is estimated to exceed 660,000 students this fall, an increase of some 7,681 students from the previous year.
SB2 provides for a 4 percent increase to the value of the weighted pupil unit, 2.5 percent for ongoing expenses, and 1.5 percent for "flexible allocation" pending further legislative action. The weighted pupil unit is the basic building block of public education funding.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, Senate chairman of the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee, said the "current expenditure is almost $200 million, with likely more to come."
The budget was headed toward final approval as lawmakers continued to sort out school funding equalization proposals and negotiations with the citizen initiative effort Our Schools Now.
"We highlighted the need for equity to help some of the poorer school districts which have lower property values per number of students and funding for at-risk students. We think this budget contains beginning steps to solving some serious problems," Hillyard said.
The budget appropriates $713,000 for a Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind school in Utah County, as well as nearly $1 million for instructional materials for students who are blind or have low vision.
Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, the bill's House sponsor and House chairman of the Legislature's Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee, described SB2 as "substantial investment in public education."
The budget bill also increases funding for the School LAND Trust Program by $13.8 million in fiscal 2018 and $23.6 million in fiscal 2019.1 comment on this story
It also provides $350,000 in ongoing funding for Carson Smith Scholarships, which provide tuition assistance for eligible special needs students enrolled in eligible private schools.
Earlier in the legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill that added deafblindness, which is a combination of sight and hearing impairments, as a qualifying condition.
The budget bill also includes $2 million for UPSTART, a free, at-home kindergarten readiness program. It also appropriates $60,000 for fine arts outreach and $190,000 for science outreach.
The House approved a small amendment to at-risk funding, which needs to be approved by the Senate before final passage of the bill.