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House committee rejects class size reduction bill

By Morgan Jacobsen | Posted - Mar. 5, 2015 at 8:50 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Concerns over accountability, funding calculations and apparent complacency with allocated funds prompted the House Education Committee to reject a bill to increase school funding to reduce class sizes.

SB106, which failed in a 6-3 vote Thursday, would have added $10 million in new money to a $115 million fund appropriated each year to hire additional teachers and build needed facilities.

Most of the money would have been distributed the same as current funds, but $2 million was targeted at districts — not charter schools — with both high student enrollment and a property tax base below the state average, according to bill sponsor Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville.

While lawmakers agreed that class sizes continue to be a problem for many Utah schools, some took issue with the fact that districts aren't required to show how class size reduction money is spent or whether it does any good.

"The feeling I've gotten is it just gets lost in the overall funding," said Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper. "I've never seen any type of report or explanation or accountability or anything at all in those areas. … Every year, I watch the classroom size reduction money go out the door."

SB106 posed similar frustrations to legislators. Lawmakers also feared it would create an incentive for schools to keep class sizes just high enough to qualify for the funds.

"There doesn't appear, to me, to be protections in the bill that assure that the money is actually going to go to reduce class size," committee chairman Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, told Harper. "As long as (school districts) can stay slightly above the state average of class size, they're going to qualify for this money. But if they actually do what you're hoping they do with this money, they're going to lose it."

"I'm hoping that they would use it as we have described in the bill," Harper said in response. "It's a double-edged sword."

Christensen, however, spoke in favor of the bill, saying it would mitigate the status quo mentality with regard to class size reduction funding because part of it would be awarded selectively.

"I don't think that the sponsor's trying to starve the schools of money," Christensen said. "I think it's right in principle, and any defects that are perceived, I think, can be addressed."

Harper said additional funding to bring down class sizes is especially needed in districts that have rapid enrollment growth but low revenues from property taxes.

"We used this (money) years ago to reduce class sizes," he said. "Now we're using it to maintain those low class sizes." Email: Twitter: MorganEJacobsen

Morgan Jacobsen


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