Lawmakers recommend more education money to get smaller classes

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Senate Education Committee unanimously recommended a bill Tuesday that would add $10 million to a fund devoted to reducing class sizes in Utah schools.

Utah schools already get $115 million each year to hire additional teachers or other specialists, but SB106 would allocate $10 million in new money to further help schools struggling to lessen the ratio of students to teachers.

Eighty percent of the new money would be distributed the same way as current funds, and 20 percent of the new money would be distributed to districts that have both a high enrollment and a property tax base below the statewide average.

Schools are considered high enrollment if their median class sizes in kindergarten through eighth grade are above the statewide median.

"I did this specifically so that every district would come out a winner," said bill sponsor Sen. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan.

Jay Blain, director of policy and research at the Utah Education Association, said class size reduction is a "top issue" that teachers and parents continue to bring up.

"Many times we look at this line item in our budget and say, 'This is really a class size maintenance item rather than a class size reduction,'" he said.

Harper's bill, Blain said, takes "a novel approach, looking at ways to address some areas that have some lack of ability to raise extra funds for class size reduction."

Charter schools do not have authority to levy property taxes, and on average they receive more state dollars on average per student than district schools.

But $2 million of the $10 million in new class size reduction money would not be available to charter schools. It's a difference that could "slightly exacerbate" less spending per student, but the bill is one the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools is comfortable with, said executive director Royce Van Tassell.

"The basic concepts here are very sound," Van Tassell said. Email: Twitter: MorganEJacobsen

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