Lawmakers look more closely at equalization funding for school districts

Lawmakers look more closely at equalization funding for school districts

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Lawmakers will talk Wednesday about expanding the school equalization bill that has caused so much controversy in recent weeks. Sen. Howard Stephenson says amendments to the bill would require receiving districts to meet standards before getting money.

"This bill would require those districts who get equalization money to utilize their junior and high schools on a year round basis, like they do with their elementary schools right now," he said.

He continued, "This would reduce the need for as many new buildings and increase the capacity of existing buildings by 50 percent. That would mean that many of the new buildings that are felt to be needed now could be delayed by 10, 15 or even 20 years and reduce the need for as much equalization money that might otherwise be needed."

Stephenson says there is also talk about making all property taxes equalized across school districts. He says right now only 20 percent of property tax is used for equalization, whereas all income tax is equalized; it basically goes into the same pool and then is distributed throughout the state.

He says he does not think that income tax would ever be kept in the same school district where it originates.

"I think there's more of a likelihood that property tax would be more and more equalized to ensure that we tax the wealth were it exists, to educate the students where they exist," he said.

Stephenson said local school boards would still have the option of levying taxes for their own purposes.

"We're talking about the portion of property taxes that go to school building construction. There's a huge disparity between the ability of growing districts to pay for those buildings and the tax base in other districts that have no building needs," he explained.

The current equalization law did not make everybody happy. Granite, Murray, Canyons and Salt Lake districts had to give money to Jordan. Salt Lake Superintendent McKell Withers was particularly vocal in opposition to the law.

Wednesday's Education Interim Committee meeting starts at 9 a.m. at the Capitol. Lawmakers also expect to talk about a hazing study and the New Century scholarship funding.


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Mary Richards


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