Governor proposes largest increase to student funding in 25 years in budget proposal

Pete CodellaNews

Gov. Gary R. Herbert presented his budget proposal for fiscal year 2016 today at Granite Park Jr. High School and said Utah’s robust economy gives Utah an opportunity to invest.

Gov. Herbert proposed a $14.3 billion budget to invest in education, correction reform and water and air quality. Governor Herbert will continue efforts to make state government more transparent, efficient and accountable to taxpayers.

As reported earlier this week, consensus revenue forecasts project $638 million in new funds, including $313 in new one-time money and $325 million in new ongoing money. The budget contains no general tax increases and the largest Rainy Day Fund since the recession, $487 million.

Education is once again the governor’s top budget priority with nearly two-thirds of the entire state budget devoted to education. Projections show that $5.3 billion in state, federal and local-generated funds will be invested in education in 2016. Gov. Herbert’s budget allots $502 million in new funds for education including $311 million for ongoing education funding, $246 million for public education and $64.5 million for higher education. An additional $191 million of the new money is one-time funding comprised of $96.2 million for public education and $94.8 million for higher education.

Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) is the main source of funding for public education for districts and charter schools across the state. Fiscal year 2016 budget reflects the largest WPU increase in 25 years and more than double last year’s increase. Gov. Herbert remains committed to local control to empower school administrators and their boards to apply the dollars where they are needed most including teacher salaries, investing in technology or hire teachers to reduce class sizes.  

Gov. Herbert recommends a $4.6 million investment for the Healthy Utah plan, an alternative to medicaid expansion. Healthy Utah would cover 95,000 Utahns living below or slightly above the federal poverty level. It will bring back $446 million of the approximately $700-800 million in taxes Utahns have already paid for the Affordable Care Act. Healthy Utah respects the taxpayers’ dollars and protects the poorest among us.

The budget includes $263 million to enhance the state correction system. While Utah’s incarceration rate is far lower than the national average, it is projected to grow at 37 percent over the next 20 years. The correction budget includes $10 million for recidivism reform. Other correction items are land purchase to relocate the prison, operating expenses at the Gunnison prison, and an increase for contracting and corrections compensation. An additional $1 million will be used for body cameras for Utah Highway Patrol Troopers.

Clean air and water fuel Utahns fundamental quality of life. Gov. Herbert proposes $20 million to replace old school buses with lower-emission models, $750,000 for research to find innovative solutions to Utah’s air challenges, and $400,000 to monitor air quality. Other funds are allocated to boost enforcement of clean air laws and provide Utahns with grants to replace wood-burning stoves, old laundromats and lawnmowers.

On average, Utah receives only 13 inches of precipitation per year making the Beehive State the second-driest in the nation, behind only to Nevada. Utah is also the second-fastest growing state in the nation and the state’s water demand is rising. To ensure we have enough water to drink, for recreation and to support our economic development. The budget includes $11.2 million to help ensure the safety of our dams, where much of our water is stored.

Click here to read Gov. Herbert’s complete budget proposal.