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Utah schools receive $108M to reduce class sizes

By Benjamin Wood | Posted - May 18th, 2013 @ 9:07am

SALT LAKE CITY — Public school officials on Wednesday presented the first of what is expected to be an annual report on the use of state class size reduction funding to members of the Education Interim Committee.

The reporting follows the passage of HB318 during the most recent legislative session, which requires school districts and charter schools to report on and create plans for how certain funds are being used to reduce class size.

"We have taken the bill and attempted to interpret what is meant there," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Martell Menlove told members of the committee. "We’ve indicated that if (school districts) choose to apply for class size reduction funds in the 2014-15 school year, they will then have to develop a plan of how they will use these funds."

Schools received roughly $108 million for class size reduction last year, which education officials said resulted in the average classroom being approximately three students smaller than what it otherwise would have been without the funds. But some lawmakers during the session questioned whether the funding was reaching its intended target of class size and not simply being added to the larger pot of school district budgets.

In its original form, HB318 called for caps to be placed on the size of classrooms in grades kindergarten through third grade. That bill stalled in committee amid concerns that without new funding, complying with the law would create a financial burden for schools.

The bill was then retooled to require a report and plan for class size reduction funds, with the intention of informing future legislative action on the handling of reduction funds.

Menlove said the terms of the bill will require school districts and charter schools to create a separate accounting process for their use of class size reduction funds. Moving forward, educators will be able to report what staff member salaries and other costs came from that fund, but historical data from before the bill's passage would not be available.

"We can report this information shortly after the beginning of the school year," Menlove said. "By the November interim we could have information from districts as to this type of data."

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, said during the committee meeting that she was satisfied the State Office of Education had complied with the language of the bill. But she also stressed that information on how schools intend to spend future class size reduction funds would be best received as soon as possible to allow lawmakers time to study the issue.

"I don’t want to wait two years to find out where we are and what the plan is going forward," Edwards said.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, the bill's Senate sponsor, was also appreciative of the state office's reporting.

"I look at this sheet and I believe it comports with what the statutory language requires and if it could be available at the start of the school year I think that would be wonderful," he said.

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