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Educators at rally disappointed with proposed funding for schools

(Chelsey Allder/Deseret News)


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Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — As floor time resumed Monday evening for the Utah House and Senate, hundreds of teachers, school administrators and parents crowded the Capitol rotunda and shouted a number they hoped their representatives would hear and remember: "6.25."

In the three days that remain of the legislative session, educators hope lawmakers will boost classroom dollars through a 6.25 percent increase to the weighted pupil unit, or WPU, an across-the-board measurement used to fund schools.

That's the amount Gov. Gary Herbert proposed in his budget plan late last year, with an overall increase of $500 million to public schools. But educators are unsatisfied with the 4 percent increase to the WPU that lawmakers settled on in a preliminary budget on Thursday.

For Eagle Bay Elementary teacher Valerie Lindeman, a 6.25 percent increase to the WPU could allow her to provide the extra support some of her kindergartners need.

"My kids need that funding," Lindeman said. "I need the extra help as a teacher. I've got just me in the classroom, and I've got 24 kindergartners. That's a lot of little 5-year-olds running around. I'm doing my best, but I need other people to help me."

It's a stark difference from when she first entered the classroom 10 years ago.

"We had a lot more professional development in our district," the Farmington teacher said. "We had mentors to help us. They were in our classroom and they were helping us along. We don't have that anymore."


We've been told for six years when the economy turned around, we'd see an investment in our schools. The end result is that we are now seeing many of our best educators leave the classroom because of increased demand, dwindling resources and an overall feeling that our profession is no longer respected.

–Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, president of the Utah Education Association


Emily Overvliet is in her first year of teaching. For her and her fourth graders at Morningside Elementary in Holladay, it's a similar story.

"The biggest problem I've seen as a first-year teacher is that there's not enough time. The teachers don't have enough time to do a good job," Overvliet said. "I'm hoping extra aides can come in and help the teacher's load and the students will get a better education as more people can help them succeed."

Starting salaries for teachers in Utah are $10,000 to $20,000 less than they are in Wyoming, giving new educators an incentive to teach elsewhere. Overvliet decided to stay in Utah, where she also teaches in a French immersion program. But extra skills and training don't always mean extra pay.

"Just the same amount to do double the work," she said.

Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, president of the Utah Education Association, said a 6.25 percent increase to the WPU would be enough to get the public education budget back to pre-recession levels. But too many funding increases have come in the form of special programs, with too little to the WPU, which allows for more local control, she said.

"We've been told for six years when the economy turned around, we'd see an investment in our schools," Gallagher-Fishbaugh said. "The end result is that we are now seeing many of our best educators leave the classroom because of increased demand, dwindling resources and an overall feeling that our profession is no longer respected."

The current budget proposal includes $435 million in new money for education. It's about $65 million short of what Herbert proposed. But unlike the governor's proposal, it doesn't rely on a funding earmark of almost $100 million for transportation.

House Assistant Whip Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, motioned to increase the WPU from 4 percent to 5 percent on Monday. But the motion failed in a 44-28 House vote.

Even though little time is left to pass another amendment, Gallagher-Fishbaugh said she's confident lawmakers will approve the funding increase.

"I think anything's possible," she said.

Contributing: Andrew Adams

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Morgan Jacobsen

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