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Legislators consider school funding, teacher pay raises

Legislators consider school funding, teacher pay raises

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers focused on education this week, considering bills dealing with performance funding, charter school support and teacher salary increases.

They also passed a bill that would rid the state's most polluted school buses with more environmentally-friendly alternatives.

Here are the highlights from these stories.

Performance funding for higher ed would preserve college missions, lawmakers say

The Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee reached an agreement Friday on the basic elements of a new policy that one lawmaker calls the "holy grail" of college budgets: performance funding.

It wouldn't be the first time colleges and universities have a portion of their funding tied to achievement in key areas. Since 2013, the Legislature has made one-time appropriations of $1 million each year that were divided among Utah's eight public institutions according to how well they comply with individual goals.

But lawmakers hope that increasing the reward to $10 million in ongoing funds will lead to steady improvements on how well institutions serve students.

"It's a formula. It's words on paper. It's numbers," said committee chairman Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George. "But if we do this right, this will mean increased graduation rates, moving students through faster, more efficiently. It can bless thousands and thousands of lives."

In its last meeting for the legislative session, the committee made adjustments to a performance funding model that will continue to be altered throughout the session. The model groups institutions by research universities, regional universities and community colleges.

School capital funding equity bill gets House approval

A bill that could cost some school districts more than $500,000 in property tax revenues to support charter schools gained House approval Thursday.

But HB119 would more evenly spread the burden of providing capital funding for charter schools, which don't have taxing authority, said bill sponsor Rep. Bradley Last, R-Hurricane.

Current law requires school districts to pay 25 percent of local property tax revenues to a statewide capital fund, which benefits both charter and district schools. But the policy creates inequity by allowing districts to select the lesser of two options: Paying 25 percent of per-pupil local revenues, or paying 25 percent of charter schools students' average local revenues.

This places a higher tax burden on districts with smaller revenues.

Last's bill would eliminate the "lesser of" language in the current statute and require districts to pay the full 25 percent of per-pupil local revenues. That means districts with larger revenues would end up paying more than $100,000 to the capital fund.

But by equalizing statewide funding, every school would see an increase in funds, Last said. Equalizing the contributions would produce about $2.8 million in revenue.

Committee OKs $13.5M bill for teacher salary increases

Lawmakers are hoping to attract and retain more educators in high-demand fields by providing an across-the-board salary increase for math, science and special education teachers. HB203 would increase those teachers' salaries by $5,100 next year, with wages going up each year until, in 2021, they reach $10,000 above current annual salaries. To qualify, teachers must have a degree in their area of instruction.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, said the raise would provide incentive for effective educators to continue teaching instead of leaving the classroom for administrative positions. Making the raise equal for all educators would also be especially appealing for new teachers entering the field, he said.

"I think what this kind of a bill does, and what this kind of an appropriation does, is it says to the entire world, 'We don't care where you're teaching. You can be teaching in Park City, or you can be teaching in Piute. But if you're teaching in one of these critical, high-need areas, you're going to make more money,'" Last said.

Bill to replace worst polluting school buses passes House

One of this session's clean air measures cleared the House on Friday on a 47-22 vote and now gets batted over to the Senate for consideration.

HB49, by Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, directs up to $20 million in one-time money to replace old diesel-burning school buses and provide alternative fuel infrastructure for school districts. The bill was modified from its original version to include certain considerations for allowing the replaced buses to be modified or retrofitted, if possible, and available for use in districts off the Wasatch Front or out of state, if there is interest.

Initial concerns by lawmakers centered on the outright destruction of an "asset," rather than making some provision for its use elsewhere.

Handy told his colleagues that he believed a good compromise had been reached, and he urged the bill's passage. "Think about children getting exposed to these fumes," he said.

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