S.B. 118 could fund Park City School District’s school improvement plans
Ryan Summerlin February 25, 2014
Utah currently ranks last in the country when it comes to per-pupil education funding, but the possible passage of a new bill, while controversial, could bring as much as $267 million a year to schools throughout the state.
S.B. 118, School Funding Through Income Tax Revisions, is sponsored by Sen. Patricia Jones (D-District 4) and Rep. Patrice Arent (D). The bill, should it pass in both the House and the Senate, calls for an increase in funding for education through the modification of state income tax credits. limiting the number of dependent deductions for families to no more than two children, Sen. Jones hopes to allot more money for the state’s public education system.
"It has been in the making for about 12 years, and the goal is to provide a long-term funding plan for public education," Jones said. "I have had a lot of input from business, chamber and education groups as well as tax experts, so it has been molded over several years."
On Feb. 12, the bill was placed on the Senate 2nd Reading Calendar after having been sent and passed through the Senate Rules Committee and the Senate Education Committee. As of Monday, Feb. 24, the bill was circled, meaning action on the bill has been temporarily postponed without removing it from its place on the calendar.
Sen. Jones said she circled the bill, because she is working on a few other bills that have kept her busy. She said the bill is "definitely still in play," and she can un-circle the bill at any time. However, that will depend on a few things before she does so, she said.
Should the bill pass, families that qualify for personal state income tax deductions will no longer be able to claim more than two children as dependents. However, they will still receive their personal federal income tax deductions, which, according to Sen. Jones, are significant. The money generated by state income tax under Jones’ proposal would be placed directly into education.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau findings, the average household size in Utah was 3.10 people per household. Sen. Jones said those families will not pay more than $11.92 more in taxes a year.
She added that the passage of the bill will not only bring about more "tax fairness" but will bring in about $267 million in ongoing and new money for education. She said that means about $700,000 per high school, $400,000 for every middle school and $300,000 for every elementary school.
Currently, by allowing families to take so many child deductions that they end up not paying any state income tax or getting money back means there is less money for Utah’s education system.
Park City School District Board of Education president Maurice "Moe" Hickey, in response, said there are a couple of equalization bills in legislation right now that claim to bring in new money but will, in fact, not do so.
"[The bills’] sponsors want us to think it is new money, but it is only new to those schools that will receive it, not new to Park City that is going to lose money in the formula," he said. "The difference between Sen. Osmond’s bill (S.B. 111) and Sen. Jones’ bill is that there will be new money for everybody."
The first 10 percent of new money brought in will be distributed evenly throughout every school in the state, and the 90 percent remainder will be distributed based on student population. That money, unlike the School Land Trust funds, can be used for a much broader array of educational needs.
Sen. Jones said the School Land Trust funds money can only go toward academics, but S.B. 118’s funding can be used to hire more teachers, reading or math specialists, art specialists, counselors or nurses. The funds can also be used to give teacher bonuses. Part of the funding would be earmarked for community council training to let them know what they can spend the money on, how to spend it and how to work with the school board to do so.
"What this money does is fund every school’s improvement plan, because right now, in law, every school has a community council that is supposed to come up with a school improvement plan for their own school," Jones said. "They can assess their school’s needs and use the money for that."
School community councils are made up of the principal, several teachers and parents with children in the school. The local school board approves the school improvement plan, and with the new money brought in if the bill passes, will continue to have oversight of the allocation of the money.
Hickey said that is where opposition from the Utah State School Board Association is coming from regarding the bill.
"The consensus is that new tax money should come directly to the school board in each district and leave it to the school board to allocate it rather than putting it in the hands of the community councils," he said. "It is bypassing the judiciary authority of the school boards. There is a fiduciary responsibility from elected officials to properly manage tax dollars."
However, Sen. Jones said that allowing community councils to decide what to do with the money will build community. A significant amount of money distributed to schools in the district means parents and patrons of the area will want to have some say on how the money is spent, so they will run for community council and want to attend school meetings, she said. It will create more community involvement and engagement, and parents will want to keep their children in their neighborhood schools.
Hickey said, despite the controversy it has created, he applauds Sen. Jones’ bill and the money it could raise, because no one is disputing the fact that there needs to be more money going into education in Utah. How the state will achieve that is the issue at hand.
Sen. Jones said the passage of her bill will help the state increase education funding, because it is new money. As the economy grows, so will the $267 million a year.
"For once, here is a proposal that is fair to Park City," Jones said. "So often it’s a district in Utah County or the Alpine District, you name it, which is taking money away from Park City. This bill is one that will really help Park City, because it is new money and it is fairly distributed."