SALT LAKE CITY — House members gave final passage to the state's public education budget Tuesday with their unanimous approval of SB4, which fully funds enrollment growth in Utah public schools and will increase the value of the weighted pupil unit by 4 percent.
The WPU is the basic building block of education funding and gives districts and charter schools a high degree of flexibility in addressing specific instructional needs.
The public education budget bill was held up as lawmakers hammered out a compromise over the entire state budget, which was achieved Tuesday afternoon. The Utah Senate gave unanimous approval to SB4 Monday night, but amid the budget stalemate, it was unclear if it would move forward in the House or if House members would instead vote on HB2, a competing bill.
It was a moot point after House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, announced the legislative houses had come to an agreement on the overall state budget.
Scott Jones, Deputy State Superintendent of Operations, likened the budget agreement to “a big influx of oxygen” for public education.
“We’re all breathing a little bit easier now,” Jones said.
Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, the floor sponsor of SB4, said the bill provides funding for the 6,750 additional students expected to enter Utah public schools next fall.
Increasing the value of the weighted pupil by 4 percent requires an appropriation of $127 million.
SB4 appropriates $15 million for the Teacher and Student Success Act, which calls for school-level plans for student achievement. The initiative will receive about $100 million its inaugural year, said Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, sponsor of SB4.
Last year, lawmakers appropriated $65 million for the program as part of their compromise with backers of the citizen initiative Our Schools Now. The funding was held in an account until legislation passed creating a process for disbursement and the requirements for school plans.
That legislation, SB149, passed earlier in this year's legislative session. The bill allows school districts or charter schools to use 25 percent of the funds for educator salaries. School districts with teacher salaries below the state average may use up to 40 percent for educator salaries if they also make local funding efforts toward that end.
The rest is to fund school-level plans approved and monitored by local school boards.
The Utah State Board of Education had requested a 5.5 percent increase to the value of the weighted pupil unit. Jones said the budget passed by lawmakers addresses most priorities identified by the Utah State Board of Education.
SB4 also provides $3 million in ongoing funds for student busing programs, $1 million in ongoing funding for the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program and $501,000 for necessarily existent small schools.