A $1 billion shift in state funding? | ParkRecord.com

A $1 billion shift in state funding?

Megan Yeiter , The Park Record

There are several education bills a part of the Utah State Legislature 2012 General Session that Park City School District employees are keeping their eyes on. However, according to Park City School District Finance Specialist Patrick Ogden, at this point, none have passed that really target Park City.

"In the past there have been bills that equalize local property tax revenue among school districts but we haven’t yet seen those this year, which is a good thing," Ogden said.

State Representative John Dougall is sponsoring HB123, which promotes Education Savings Accounts for students in ninth through 12th grade. The bill would shift more than $1 billion in state funding from schools to students, according to Ogden, who said this would fundamentally change how public education is funded. The House Education Committee put the bill on hold and will look for ways to scale the proposal back to a pilot program.

"It is a public school voucher with some allowance for private higher education courses. They will take $6,400 per pupil, which is approximately the amount spent for kids in grades nine through 12. That money will then be put into what they are calling an Education Savings Account," he said, adding that right now that money goes to the school districts directly.

The Legislature seeks to support school choice by allotting the $6,400 to high school students throughout the state, Ogden said, adding that students would be able to spend the money in either traditional district schools, charter schools or through the state online education program. If passed, the bill would also allow students to participate in extracurricular activities within a school district where they are enrolled in one or more courses.

"If a student here in Park City decides that they want to attend Park City High School and take all of their courses from Park City High School, then the state would transfer that money to the school," Ogden said. "If that student wants to take that money and go somewhere else to a public school, they could take that money and take courses there."

Recommended Stories For You

The Legislature has estimated that the program would cost the state about $17.4 million more than what’s being spent right now for public education, according to Ogden. Proponents of the bill believe it could create competition among the various public education providers, Ogden said, adding that they believe that schools will improve their education programs in order to compete for students.

House Sponsor Merlynn Newbold (R-South Jordan) and Senate Sponsor Howard Stephenson (R-Draper) proposed HB1, which provides basic funding for public education for next fiscal year beginning July 1, according to Park City School District Board Member Lisa Kirchenheiter, who said the bill proposes a Weighted People Unit of $2,577 in special education and $2,816 for all other programs.

"The base budget is just a foundational bill right now," Kirchenheiter said. "We’ll keep an eye on it while it goes through the committees. They are building the budget through the sessions and will announce it toward the end."

Kirchenheiter said HB62, sponsored by Park City Representative Kraig Powel which allows teachers to suggest a list of school supplies for parents to purchase.

"Sometimes teachers aren’t sure what they can ask for, so this is clarifying that they can ask for supplies from their students," she said. "You can’t ask for money for fees like you can at the secondary levels. This bill isn’t asking for fees, this is just asking for students to purchase supplies and it’s voluntary." She said there will be supplies available if parents choose not to buy their own.

One bill that could potentially save the state roughly $10 million annually is SB54, sponsored by Senator Benjamin McAdams. Kirchenheiter said the Utah State Board Association has not taken a position on the bill, which would freeze student exemptions for income tax.

"Instead of an exemption increasing each year it would just stay frozen and that could save the state $10 million per year," she said. "It puts it in perspective that this is a substantial amount of money."

Ogden said one budgeting issue that is part of the Minimum School Program Act addresses sharing local property taxes with charter schools. He said current regulations require a school district to only pay a portion of a student’s tax revenue if they leave the district to attend a charter school, and the state pays an amount to make that equal to what that school district receives in property tax revenue.

"What this budget initiative would do is phase out the state’s local property tax replacement funding and the school district would have to pay all that local funding to the charter school," Ogden said, adding that if this portion of the bill passes, it could cost the school district about $800,000. The program would be implemented over the next 13 years.

Ogden said officials proposing the change believe that when a student leaves a school district, the property tax from that student is a bonus that the school district shouldn’t need.

"We believe that we should keep a good portion of that property tax to maintain the infrastructure and fixed cost associated with those students," he said.