Lawmakers focused on education funding ahead of 2010 session

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Lawmakers are focused on education funding as the Utah Legislature prepares for its 2010 session. Money is still tight, so they're looking at everything.

The good news for public education is that the governor did not propose cuts in his budget. But with enrollment increasing by 11,000 students statewide this year, keeping the budget numbers flat still amounts to a cut.

In that environment, educators, parents and legislators are looking at anything and everything to save money.

"One thing we really don't want to do is affect the students' education. We'd like to preserve that," says Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan.

Granite School District Superintendent Ronnenkamp looks fondly at historical photos at the district headquarters. There were most certainly problems even then, but not to the magnitude of today.

"It's been the most difficult year I've had," Ronnenkamp says.

Even school bus service, widely seen as an entitlement, might be affected by tough budget decisions this year.

At the state Capitol, Sen. Chris Buttars is researching specific cuts to bus service at some urban high schools. The rationale is that many high school students drive themselves to school anyway.

In the Granite District, a little more than $9 million dollars is budgeted for transportation. Senior high school routes account for $874,000 of that.

Is the savings worth it? Ronnenkamp is willing to take a look but has concerns, including safety and students who don't have cars.

"I worry about students that are more in homes that may not have the privileges that others have," he says. "I worry about some sort of disincentive to get to school."

It's still early, in this process, but it's a sign of the times. When it comes to saving money, everything is on the table this year.


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Richard Piatt


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